City making progress on water crisis

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Restrictions have lowered demand

By Martin Salazar

The city of Las Vegas is close to an agreement with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish for an extra 100 acre feet of water to help the city meet its water needs this year and it has asked the U.S. Interior Department for another 500 acre feet of water that the federal agency has in Storrie Lake.

City Manager Timothy Dodge said during Wednesday’s City Council meeting that he had been notified earlier in the day that Game and Fish was moving forward with making the 100 acre feet of water from Storrie Lake available to the city this year to help it deal with the drought emergency. He said he anticipated that agreement being in place in a week or so.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, meanwhile, has asked the U.S. Department of Interior’s leadership to consider making 500 acre feet of water the agency has at Storrie Lake available to the city, Dodge said.

“They are supposed to be reassessing that and seeing if they can make water available to us this year to address the immediate threat to the community,” the city manager said.

An acre foot of water is roughly what two to three typical households use in a year.

“We are doing everything conceivably possible to make sure we’re addressing this situation,” Dodge said.

The city has already implemented Stage IV water restrictions, which prohibits outdoor watering, and the City Council declared a water emergency this month.

Las Vegas gets roughly 90 percent of its water from the Gallinas River.

“The Gallinas water flow is 2.8 million gallons per day.  That’s as of Wednesday,” Utilities Director Ken Garcia told the governing body. “Comparatively, last year at this same time, the flow was 101 million.”

Garcia said the city’s reservoirs are currently 77 percent full, which is roughly equivalent to a 77- day supply, depending on demand.

Since Stage IV was implemented on April 8, the city has seen a 10 to 13 percent decrease in water use, he said. So far, six citations have been issued to residents found violating the restrictions, Garcia said, adding that those six people were each fined $350. Twelve warnings also have been issued.

The city notified Gov. Susana Martinez that it had declared an emergency in an April 8 letter. In that letter, the city notifies the governor of four priorities it states need to be implemented to avoid a disaster.

The top two items listed are securing additional water from Game and Fish and the Department of Interior.

The letter states that the city also needs emergency funding from the state Water Trust Board for construction of a supplemental well for Taylor Well No. 2. The city currently only has one working well at the Taylor Well Field, and if that well were to go down, the city’s precarious water situation would be further complicated, Dodge said.

Mayor Alfonso Ortiz said the city is asking the Water Trust Board for $1.5 million for the Taylor Well project.

The final priority the city outlined to the governor was the need to move forward with the Peterson Dam reconstruction, a $16 million project. The city needs help from the federal government to fund the project, and the design and review process need to be expedited, Dodge said.

He said the city would be asking the governor to declare a drought emergency for Las Vegas. A state emergency declaration, Dodge said, would give the city an opportunity to access emergency funds from the Bureau of Reclamation.

Councilman Andrew Feldman asked what the city’s contingency plan is if the river dries up completely. He said the city should be looking at purchasing Mora River or Milliken wells water and building a pipeline to get that water into the city’s system. It would be expensive, he said, but it shouldn’t be ruled out.

“I don’t want to cry wolf here, but it’s always best to look at the worst case scenario,” Feldman said.
Dodge said the city would be meeting with the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management on Monday to ensure the city is ready if drought conditions worsen.

In other business, the City Council:

• Approved the audit report for the 2009 fiscal year, which expressed a disclaimer opinion. A disclaimer opinion is one of the worst opinions an entity can receive; it means that the city could not support its financial statements.

• Amended its personnel ordinance to allow retiring employees to receive a lump sum payout for accrued leave the employee has earned.

• Signed off on a franchise agreement with Plateau Telecommunications.

• Adopted an ordinance approving the codification and revision of the city’s ordinances.