Water rate hike on horizon

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Mayor: Residents should prepare for 500 percent increase

By Martin Salazar

Customers on the city of Las Vegas water system should prepare to pay five times what they currently pay for water, Mayor Alfonso Ortiz is warning.

“The bottom line is people better expect a rate increase,” Ortiz said Thursday evening during a public meeting where city consultants outlined tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements being considered for the city’s water system.

While the city will try to tap into federal and state funding to help pay for water infrastructure projects like increased storage and replacing leaky waterlines, water customers will also need to do their part, the mayor said.

The city has hired a team of consultants and tasked them with coming up with a 40-year water plan for the city. Thursday’s meeting was held so that consultants could brief the public on their preliminary findings and alternatives. They hope to have a draft plan completed by June.

Consultants are looking at everything from adding capacity at the city’s three reservoirs to tapping into water outside of the Gallinas River and Taylor Wells.

Tod Phinney, with the firm WHPacific, said the city currently gets about 90 percent of its water from the Gallinas with the rest coming from Taylor Wells.

He said the city now has the capacity to store only about 40 percent of the water it uses in a year or about 1,000 acre feet. An acre foot contains 326,000 gallons, enough to service two to three residences for a year.

The city stores its water at Peterson and Bradner reservoirs and at Storrie Lake.

Phinney said his firm has been looking at the possibility of increasing storage at Peterson, Bradner and Storrie Lake.

Adding up to 1,000 acre feet at Peterson would cost $15 million to $20 million, he said, while adding up to 900 acre feet at Bradner would cost about $18 million. Adding storage at Storrie Lake could cost between $24 million and $60 million, he said.

Among the other alternatives Phinney discussed was tapping into storage at Lake Isabel and Lake David and at McAllister Lake, which would also cost tens of millions.

Don Lopez, a dam expert with URS Corporation, noted that even if the city opts not to increase storage at Peterson, it will probably need to invest between $500,000 and $4 million to fix it. Peterson now holds about 200 acre feet of water, and Lopez said that given the State Engineers safety concerns about the facility, Las Vegas is either going to need to upgrade it or lower the amount of water it stores there.

Lopez said the State Engineer is also concerned about the city’s Bradner dam, which holds 311 acre feet. He said the State Engineer is worried that there could be a catastrophic failure there at any time.

Another concern addressed was the amount of water being lost through the city’s water distribution system.

Douglas Albin, with Molzen-Corbin, said that for every 100 gallons of treated water that goes through the system, 23 gallons are lost. He said aging infrastructure is a problem, noting that parts of the system are 60 to 70 years old.

Albin estimated that the city would need to spend about $500,000 a year for the next 20 years to fix all the lines.

Another water-saving measure being looked at is extending the city’s effluent irrigation system. The city currently uses effluent to water several city parks and ball fields.

Extending those effluent lines so that more parks could be watered with effluent would save water, Albin said.

John Kay from the Albuquerque based firm Daniel B Stephens, discussed the city’s groundwater supply. He said that while the city has 1,500 acre feet of water rights at the Taylor Well Field, it is currently only able to produce 400 acre feet a year.

Among the alternatives his firm is looking at are replacing wells in the Taylor Well Field, obtaining property and drilling new wells west and east of Taylor Wells, exchanging treated effluent for a potable supply and importing groundwater from the Santa Rosa and Ribera areas.

Several Las Vegas residents weighed in after the consultants finished their presentations.

Pat Leahan said she wished water conversation had been among the issues broached by the consultants.

“We as a community really need to get better at conserving water,” she said.

San Miguel County Manager Les Montoya urged the city and its consultants to include the negative impacts of the various alternatives in the final study. He also wondered where the water would come from to fill the bigger reservoirs the city is considering.

The city needs water rights to fill bigger reservoirs, he said.

City Councilman Andrew Feldman said the community needs to start talking about a regionalized water system, which would be able to leverage more money.

Several residents questioned where the money would come from for the projects.

Mayor Ortiz said the city can no longer afford to provide water at the current price, and he said the city was going to have to look at implementing an increase of at least 500 percent.

“The reality is that if we want water, we’re going to have to pay for it,” he said.

Carol Johnson commended city leaders for pushing forward on the water issue.

“Our future grandchildren are not going to have water unless we take action,” she said.

Any increase to city water rates would have to be approved by the City Council.
The city recently increased its solid waste fees.