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Water projects - Agency seeks millions for city

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By Mercy Lopez

Water issues have been at the forefront for many years for the city. On Monday, the city got some news that could greatly benefit the city if all goes as planned.

New Mexico Environment Department General Counsel and Legislative Coordinator Jeff Kendall announced the city would be included in the department’s capital outlay funding request during the upcoming state legislative session that starts next week.

The requests include $1.95 million to fund the expansion of the effluent water reuse system currently in place within the city. The other request is for an additional $1.9 million to fix the city’s old water distribution lines. If legislators approve the requests, Kendall told the audience, which  included Mayor Alfonso Ortiz Jr., Gov. Susan Martinez will sign the appropriations. Kendall urged audience members to notify state elected officials in an effort to ensure requests get funded.

Martinez and state Environment Department Cabinet Secretary Ryan Flynn announced in November that out of the $189 million in capital outlay money, they want $112 million to go toward water and wastewater projects throughout the state.

Jim Winchester, a spokesman for the Environment department, said there are still discussions on potential funding for Bradner Dam issues, but he said that specific project is linked to the Office of the State Engineer and not the Environment Department.

The $1.95 million request for  the effluent system would reduce and possibly eliminate the use of potable water for the watering of city parks and school fields by expanding the effluent water system currently in place. Kendall said the project will help conserve the city’s drinking water supply.

The $1.9 million distribution line request will address the issues of leakage and undersized pipes within the city water system. According to the Environment Department, the city’s water distribution system is roughly 100 years old. Due to the age of the system and other factors, parts of Las Vegas lack adequate fire protection.

Kendall said area legislators have informed him they are committed to these capital funding requests.

“Despite the fact that you have their support at this point, still take the time to reinforce it and drive it home,” Kendall said.

Kendall said the projects chosen in the capital outlay-funding request were identified by certain criteria including communities dealing with water shortage, water quality issues and infrastructure age.

“Of the projects we are looking to fund with capital outlay money, 80 percent are in democratic districts. So the politics here is not in the plan …,” Kendall said. “We are just making sure that capital outlay money can be allocated for these water projects.”

Ortiz thanked Kendall and the environment department for their lead on the requests.

“It isn’t anything about politics … Without clean air we can only survive three minutes roughly, without water maybe three days, and without food maybe three weeks. Water is the second most important source that we need to keep alive.” Ortiz said. “That is something we are fighting for … we have increased our rates also but we have because we need to have that water.”

The Gabaldon area near Ojitos Frios is also included in the capital outlay request. The $259,070 request will help address the community’s water system compliance and distribution issues. Kendall said the system has high levels of nitrates in the system that fluctuate and a shortage of water for the roughly 35 households.

Kendall said, “The capital outlay route we are pushing for is the right route at this point in time in light of the drought, in light of the recurring fires every summer, in light of the flooding that follows such events.”

Ortiz said the city has 18,000 water customers, including 14,000 from Las Vegas and about 4,000 from outside the city limits.

“I hope legislators come to the realization that water is a real problem in this world of ours and we need to address it very seriously and aggressively,” Ortiz said.