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Official not sure there's an emergency

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By David Giuliani

State Engineer John D'Antonio said he has yet to be convinced that residents southwest of Las Vegas are suffering a water emergency.

But D’Antonio, the state’s top water official, said his agency continues to investigate the situation.

In recent weeks, residents in the Ojitos Frios area have reported that 16 wells have gone dry, a number that is now down to 13. They have blamed the city’s increased pumping at Taylor Wells, which supplements the municipal system’s main water source, the Gallinas River.

D’Antonio said his office is confirming the dry wells, but he said that his staffers have found a couple of situations where well pumps weren’t working.

“That didn’t mean they didn’t have water; it’s that their pumps weren’t working,” he said.

He said in another case, a resident was able to get water after he drilled a deeper well.

A few years ago, the state engineer’s office determined that residents should drill their wells to 400 feet if they wanted a regular supply, D’Antonio said. Instead, most residents have their wells at an average of 300 feet, he said.

“The crux of the problem is a failure to plan. There’s plenty of blame to go around,” he said.

Last week, D’Antonio met with local officials and representatives of Ojitos Frios at the behest of state Sen. Phil Griego, D-San Jose.

In some water emergencies, the state has provided a water buffalo — a temporary water tank — but D’Antonio said that was expensive.

“Once you get a water buffalo out there, that puts on a Band-Aid and the community doesn’t fix the problem. It’s quite a cost to taxpayers,” D’Antonio said.

At any rate, he said it would be hard for the state to help in this situation because the residents have private wells and the state constitution bars public money from going toward private purposes.

He said ultimately the solution needs to come from Ojitos Frios residents themselves. He encouraged the residents’ efforts toward developing a community water system.

D’Antonio said state law requires him to issue domestic well permits, but he said he has been trying to change the law so as to allow his office to deny permits in water-short areas.

Joseph Zebrowski, president of El Creston Domestic Water Conservation Association, which represents residents southwest of town, said his group knows of one resident whose well pump didn’t work. He said the association has adjusted its number of dry wells as a result.

He said members aren’t focused on how the problem started; rather, they’re seeking solutions, he said.

“This is an emergency to those who have lost their wells and don’t have the resources to drill new ones,” he said. “Will more wells be impacted? This has caused a lot of anxiety.”

Zebrowski said he hasn’t seen any information from the state engineer’s office about how deep to drill wells southwest of town.

“We want to get our immediate problem fixed. We still haven’t identified a source of water,” he said.