After another disappointing drill — the Taylor Well No. 2 replacement well is only producing a sixth of what was expected — the city of Las Vegas finds itself in the same place it has been for years. While drawing 90 percent of its water from the Gallinas River, the city desperately needs to diversify its water sources.
But then, that’s only one part of what we must do to create a city water system for the future. Granted, it’s a big part — the city should never have placed itself in the position of depending on a single water source — but there’s another big ingredient, and that’s storage. The city needs more water in reserve.
That could happen with an estimated $20 million project to fix and build up Peterson Dam. Right now, the city’s primary reservoir at the eastern entrance of the Gallinas Canyon can hold only about 211 acre feet of water, while it’s losing most of that — about 60 million gallons, or 184 acre feet — to the dam’s leakage every year. But if Peterson Dam were raised, engineers say, the reservoir could hold up to 1,200 acre feet, or 390 million gallons, in storage. Plus, fixing the dam would stop the leaks.
Aside from the fact that the dam is weakening and could potentially fail, this increased storage itself would be a huge improvement. And while it’s not the only pressing need — in addition to a shortage of groundwater sources, the city’s water lines are leaking like sieves — we think Peterson must be the top issue for the here-and-now.
When Gov. Susana Martinez visited Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago, she made it clear that she’d like to see lawmakers fund a Peterson Dam project for Las Vegas. True enough, she was talking about $2 million, not $20 million, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to a lack of support for the larger project to raise the dam. More likely, that’s an indication that she expects Las Vegas to come up with other funding sources — and that’s something the City Council is working on right now.
In Friday’s Optic, there was a report on the proposed water rate hikes from 2013 through 2015. Yes, the graduated increases are painful just to look at, but they are also, unfortunately, overdue. The city must raise its water rates substantially, and there’s no better time than now to make that happen. The result will be enough revenue to secure bond issues to pay for Peterson Dam and other improvements to the water system. And while it’s not a total fix, it will be a tremendous step forward.