Council OKs pilot water project

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By Martin Salazar

After much discussion, the City Council voted unanimously Wednesday night to move forward with a pilot underground water storage project.

Bob Wessely, president of the Las Vegas Community Water Board, underscored the need for the project during the public input portion of the meeting, telling the Council that the city’s existing reservoirs will likely be full by the end of the weekend, after which the city will have no place to store water flowing down the Gallinas.

As of Tuesday, the city’s reservoir storage was at 93 percent, and the river is still producing about 9 million gallons of water per day with runoff from the September storm, he said.

Wessely told the Council that if underground storage turns out to be viable, it will go a long way toward addressing the city’s limited storage.

The project involves injecting treated Gallinas River water into the aquifer beneath the Taylor Well Field and then pulling that water out when it’s needed. The city already has wells at the site that could be used to both inject the water and retrieve it. Responding to concerns that the city could introduce bacteria into the groundwater supply, city officials stressed that the river water would be treated to drinking water standards before it goes into the ground.

If the pilot project is successful, the city will look at doing a large-scale project.

City Utilities Director Ken Garcia told the Council that water levels at the Taylor Well Field have dropped by 350 to 400 feed since the 1950s.  

Allowing the aquifer to recharge on its own would take hundreds of years, Garcia said. He said the goal of the project is to keep as much water in this area as possible.

A preliminary engineering report prepared for the city in 2011 found that the city doesn’t have sufficient water storage.

Since that report was released, the city has been moving forward with plans to increase the capacity of its above-ground reservoirs.

Garcia said the expansion of Bradner will still be needed, a project that is expected to cost $28 million.

But if the underground storage project is successful and the city doesn’t have to build or expand additional reservoirs, the city could safe upwards of $30 million, Garcia said.

“The only way we’re going to know is to do the study,” he said. Garcia said he’s optimistic that it can work, though the city isn’t putting all its eggs in one basket.

Councilwoman Tonita Gurule-Giron questioned whether the city had hired a consultant in 2004 or 2005 to do the same study. She also noted that there are faults below the surface and questioned how long the water could be stored underground before it is lost.

Garcia said that study was never completed. As for the faults, Garcia said the study would tell them more, but he said it takes hundreds of years for the underground water to move.

“This demonstration project will give us those answers,” City Manager Timothy Dodge said.

In the end, the Council approved the $215,000 task order for Molzen Corbin to do the work. Part of the study includes water quality testing.

The project will need approval from the State Engineer’s Office. Gurule Giron questioned how much the city would pay if the State Engineer rejects the application. Garcia responded that it would be up to $65,000.

Garcia noted that underground storage projects are gaining in popularity throughout the country. In 2001 such projects were happening in 15 states. By 2010, such projects were being done in 25 states, he said.