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Official doubts city well is culprit

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By David Giuliani

Rose Marie Pino, a Romeroville resident, has seen her water pressure go down, and she has limited her water use.

Pino wants to avoid what she says is happening to some of her neighbors — a complete loss of water. Like other residents southwest of Las Vegas, she blames the city’s pumping at Taylor Wells for her water problems.

But an official in the state engineer’s office, which handles water issues, doubts the city’s one operating well at Taylor Wells is the culprit.

John Romero, the office’s director of the water resource allocation program, said the more than 80 wells southwest of town are likely affecting each other, adding that the city’s wells are a mile and a half from the area in question.

“That’s a long distance for one well to affect another well,” he said. “You have a lot of wells in a confined area. Usually you want to drill wells a lot deeper.”

City officials have maintained that the residents’ well levels depend on the amount of precipitation. They have noted that the city’s water rights are older than most of the residents southwest of town; senior rights take precedence in New Mexico.

City Manager John Avila said last week that the city takes all area residents’ concerns to heart.

But Pino and others don’t buy the officials’ arguments. They say their well levels drop more and more when the city pumps from Taylor Wells, which is just down the road from the county jail.

The city has been greatly increasing its use of Taylor Wells over the last few years, increasing from 4 million gallons in 2004 to 37 million in the drought year of 2006, according to the state engineer’s office.

So far this year, the city has pumped 30 million gallons.

Pino, a single mother with three children, said she doesn’t like the attitude of the city toward the residents just outside its boundaries.

“People have met several times with the city, and they’ve been told that we’re outsiders,” she said. “I work in the city of Las Vegas. I was born and raised in Las Vegas. We’re being discriminated against because we live outside the area. I can’t see where that rationale is coming from. The city government has an ethical responsibility to the people in Las Vegas and surrounding communities.”

Pino is afraid property values will drop in her area.

“I’ve seen my water level go down. My neighbor is without water. They are frantic,” she said. “I have nowhere to go. I can’t afford to go into town and pay rent. I can’t afford to lose my home.”

As it stands, Romero said, the state engineer’s office doesn’t warn prospective well owners about problems with water supplies southwest of Las Vegas. However, he said that if people ask, the agency will give answers.

Romero said he has a well in Mora County, but he had it dug to 400 feet to prevent other wells from affecting it. Pino said her well is 150 feet.

“I’ve been there six years,” she said. “I’ve never had such problems with my water.”

Under state law, Romero said, his office must issue permits for domestic wells. In recent times, the state reduced the amount that can be pumped from a new domestic well from nearly 1 million gallons a year to 326,000.

Romero said the state could set up a domestic well management area if residents or a county government made such a request. If the state engineer’s office grants such a request, it could limit the number of new wells or have new owners bring water rights to the table.

Setting up a domestic well management area would require a public input process, Romero said.

“It could keep additional wells from going into an area,” he said.

County Manager Les Montoya, who met with residents southwest of Las Vegas last week, said the county can’t represent individual well owners; it has to approach the issue from a public health and safety basis. He said the county needs to start preparing for emergencies in which the area southwest of Las Vegas doesn’t have water.

Montoya said the County Commission would want to consider the domestic well management area as an option.