More water restrictions imposed

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Poor water outlook prompts measures

By Martin Salazar

With the city of Las Vegas having experienced one of the driest winters in decades, city officials this week imposed Stage III water restrictions, limiting outdoor watering to one hour a week, and an all-out ban on outdoor watering could come as early as next week.

In fact, the mayor and council are convening an emergency meeting at 11 a.m. today (April 8) to consider declaring a water emergency due to drought conditions.

State hydrologists have issued dire predictions of the state’s water supply, but the city of Las Vegas is in a particularly bad spot because it gets 90 percent of its water supply from the Gallinas River, while most other cities don’t rely so heavily on surface water.

Snowpack levels in the Gallinas watershed are well below normal this year, meaning that there’s not much runoff heading into the Gallinas River. Warm temperatures and high winds aren’t helping the situation.

“There’s just too much unforeseen, and the dependency on Mother Nature makes it a tough situation for us,” City Manager Timothy Dodge said. “If we don’t get the early monsoons or the rain coming in, we could be in a severe drought situation. Right now, our reservoirs are about 84 percent full.

“So if the snowmelt stops coming down the river and it ends quicker than what we predict, from that point forward, we only have 90 to 120 days of water for the city. That’s a pretty severe situation.”

Mayor Alfonso Ortiz said he will recommend that the city move into Stage IV water restrictions — which would ban all outdoor watering — as soon as next week.

Ultimately, he said, it will be up to the city manager and water staff to decide whether Stage IV is warranted.

Regardless, he said, city water users should do everything they can to conserve water, which includes not leaving the water running when brushing teeth and taking quicker showers.

“We’ve been trying to emphasize the dire situation we’re facing,” Ortiz said.

He said that if the emergency declaration is approved, it will be presented to the governor and other agencies along with a request for help. If the state were to declare an emergency because of the city’s water situation, Ortiz said, the city might be able to tap into funding for critical water infrastructure projects and it would likely be able to fast-track those projects.

Ortiz also clarified remarks he made last month about a possible 500 percent increase in city water rates. Ortiz said that’s the last thing he wants to see happen, and if the city can tap into federal and state funds for the water infrastructure projects, it might be able to keep the increase to the single digits. But if no funding is forthcoming, he said, hard decisions will need to be made.

Stage III restrictions mean that residents will only be allowed to water one day a week instead of the two days that had been permitted under Stage II restrictions. Under Stage III restrictions, vehicle washing is allowed only at businesses that use recycled water.

The city imposed the new restrictions on Wednesday, the same day a water shortage rotation plan for the Gallinas River was imposed by the Office of the State Engineer.

The plan stipulates when the city, acequias and other water users can draw from the river.

“This year is one of the worst drought years in recent history. Statewide precipitation is less than 40 percent of normal for most of New Mexico since Jan. 1,” State Engineer John D’Antonio said in a news release. “The Rio Gallinas stream system is chronically short of water and presents difficult water management challenges.

“Since drought conditions are expected to continue, this water shortage rotation schedule is critical to achieve a fair distribution of water...”

Stage III
• Watering is limited to one hour per week, from 6 to 7 a.m. OR from 8 to 9 p.m.
• If you have an even-numbered address you’re allowed to water on Wednesdays.
 •If you have an odd-numbered address you’re allowed to water on Thursdays.
•Washing of vehicles is prohibited except at businesses that use recycled water.
•Fines range from a warning for a first offense to a $450 fine for a third and subsequent offense.
Source: City of Las Vegas