An engineer on Thursday promoted the advantages of a rancher’s proposal to lease his wells to Las Vegas, saying they would provide clean water and increase the city’s supplies.
Paul Saavedra of Santa Fe Engineering spoke for more than an hour to the Las Vegas Community Water Board, a nonprofit group whose stated aim is to help the community reach water solutions. He is working for Alexander Milliken, who owns the ranch with the wells southwest of town.
“This is wet water readily available now,” Saavedra said.
He said that the way the aquifer zones are structured, the Milliken wells may have less of an impact on the 80 or so nearby wells than the city’s one operating well at Taylor Wells. Both the Milliken and Taylor wellfields are near Ojitos Frios.
Residents in Ojitos Frios and other communities have complained that the city’s increased pumping at Taylor Wells have caused their well levels to drop. The city, backed by an official in the state engineer’s office, has contended that the residents’ wells are affecting one another.
Saavedra, a former water rights official in the state engineer’s office, said the Milliken wells would pump water from an aquifer zone that dips below Taylor Wells. He said there is a separation in the aquifer zones from the Milliken wells and the residents’ shallower wells.
However, he said monitoring of nearby wells would have to be conducted to determine the effect. He said if the city accepts the Milliken offer, then such monitoring could happen.
The city has 1,550 acre-feet of water rights per year at Taylor Wells. However, the city has used far less than that — for example, 114 acre-feet in the drought year of 2006. In fact, it’s been more than 40 years since even 600 acre-feet has been pumped at Taylor Wells.
The state engineer requires that the city and others use their water rights. If not, water rights owners could theoretically lose unused rights. As a practical matter, the state engineer has been granting the city extensions, and no one involved in the matter expects the state to take away the city’s rights at Taylor Wells anytime soon.
The Milliken Ranch is offering to let the city lease the wells in exchange for piggybacking on the city’s rights at Taylor Wells.
“What we are proposing to do is make up for the 950 acre-feet the city isn’t using,” Saavedra said. “This makes sense economically; this makes sense hydrologically.”
Testing on five Milliken wells has shown they can produce 2,200 acre-feet a year, according to a report by John Shomaker & Associates, an Albuquerque firm. That compares with the 2,600 acre-feet taken off the Gallinas River annually, which has been Las Vegas’ primary source of water.
Saavedra said Shomaker’s prediction is that the wells could produce that amount for the next 20 years.
Andrew Feldman, president of the water board, said the Milliken offer is a “promising solution.” He said that while the city has legitimate water rights at Taylor Wells, it needs to be concerned with residents impacted by pumping there.
“We are a community,” he said.
He said the city has been particularly aggressive in the last year in its pumping at Taylor Wells.
Asked about the city’s role, City Manager John Avila said the conversations with Milliken had been confidential, but now Milliken and his supporters have made it a public issue.
“We’re very interested in the possibilities of the (Milliken) wells,” he said.
Feldman agreed that discussions on price should remain confidential, but he said it’s important for the city to respond to the Milliken offer.
Milliken presented his proposal in October, and the offer expires June 30.
With the March 4 municipal election approaching, a number of candidates attended the meeting. Feldman himself is a Ward 3 council candidate, and one his opponents, Henry A. Sanchez, also showed up for the meeting.
Three mayoral candidates, Gary Ludi, Tony Marquez and Ramon “Swoops” Montao, also attended.
Marquez, a city councilman, said he was attending to absorb information about the issue.
“I want to make an intelligent and informed decision,” he said.