Officials pushing dam project

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By David Giuliani

Las Vegas officials promise that they — not lawyers — will be guiding water policy in the future.

As such, Mayor Tony Marquez and Councilman Andrew Feldman are pushing for a study to determine the feasibility of a proposed hydroelectric project on the Gallinas River. The estimated cost: $46.5 million.

They say the dam would produce hydroelectric power for Las Vegas, act as a supply reservoir for firefighting in the watershed and manage the river more effectively for all concerned — city water customers, acequias and users of Storrie Lake water.

“There’s always litigation. People say it’s pending litigation, so we can’t do anything about water. We say that enough is enough of getting lawyers rich off of tax dollars,” Marquez said.”The attorneys will not dictate our direction. What happened before March 4 (date of Marquez’s election as mayor) isn’t necessarily the plan of this administration.”

Feldman agreed, saying that the attorneys have served as “the tail wagging the dog.”

Marquez plans to have the council meet with its water attorneys later this month and give them direction.

Last month, Feldman and Marquez visited with both of New Mexico’s U.S. senators, Democrat Jeff Bingaman and Republican Pete Domenici, in Washington and told them they would like to get federal money for a study for the city’s dam proposal, drafted by Feldman and George DuFour, the city’s utilities director. They said they have received indications from the senators that the lawmakers would lobby for around $250,000 for that study.

According to the proposal, the idea for a dam is not new. In 1958, a similar project for Gallinas Canyon was proposed and funding was earmarked, but it failed to pass through the local governments at the time.

The project would be in place of the current dam in the Gallinas Canyon, which has needed improvements for years. The new dam would hold 12,000 acre-feet of water, which is equivalent to nearly six years of storage for the city at current consumption rates. Right now, the city has 850 acre-feet of storage, according to the dam proposal.

The dam would not be just for the city but for all the stakeholders of the Gallinas River, the proposal states. It calls for a conveyance system to all of the acequias — or community-operated irrigation ditches — so that all can get their portion of the water.

“We would be able to deliver the water wherever and whenever it’s needed,” said Feldman, who is also president of the Las Vegas Community Water Board, a nonprofit group.

He said the project would pay for itself over the years with the revenue from the electricity generated, which would go to Las Vegas residents. Initially, he said, electricity rates would be around what Public Service Company of New Mexico now charges.

But when the project is paid for, Feldman said, the rates could be lowered because the electric utility would be a nonprofit. And that may prompt more people to start using electricity to heat their homes, instead of natural gas or propane, which both have become more costly, he said.

The project, which would occur in phases, would also rehabilitate the Montezuma skating pond and build a water line from the wastewater treatment plant to the reservoir to blend treated wastewater back into the system.

“It’s an ambitious project, but it will go a long way to solving water problems,” Feldman said.

Gabe Estrada, a member of the Roundhouse acequia, said he favors the dam proposal, as he did a half century ago.

“It would give us storage. We can’t live off of the river; it’s feast or famine. We need a little more security,” he said.

Recently, Marquez said the city, the acequias and the Storrie Project Water Users Association entered into an agreement pledging to work together and do away with litigation. Estrada said he likes the approach of the new city leaders.

“I was really proud of our mayor and councilman going to Washington to try to get support for the water situation,” he said. “I’m really, really glad that the city is trying to cooperate with the acequias.”

“Millions has been spent on attorneys, and nothing has been accomplished,” he said.