Lower Expectations for San Juan-Chama?

photo by Margaret Wright

photo by Margaret Wright

by Elizabeth W. Hughes

— Each year, the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility ups the ante on use of Colorado River waters flowing south through New Mexico. And each year, the project falls short.

The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority has a plan to reduce the city’s reliance on its depleted aquifer. Introduced in the utility’s 2008 budget, the San Juan-Chama Drinking Water Project promised to supply up to 70 percent of the city’s future water by importing it from the San Juan and Chama Rivers.

At the Water Utility Authority board meeting on Jan. 16, Michael Jensen of Amigos Bravos raised two concerns. First, the goal of supplying up to 70 percent of the area’s future water through the San Juan-Chama project is vague and hard to measure, said Jensen. Second, none of the targets ramping up the percentage of water the city gets from the project have been met—yet every year, the water utility sets higher ones.

Members of the board expressed interest in hearing more background on the project in order to review its standards.

Issue: Kirtland jet fuel spill and Sandia Labs landfill

Massive leakage of jet fuel from storage tanks at Kirtland Air Force Base—an estimated 24 million gallons—may be the biggest contamination threat to an underground municipal drinking water supply in U.S. history.

The board passed R-12-14, which City Councilor Rey Garduño says will give teeth to an earlier resolution to enter into a formal clean-up agreement with the air force base. R-12-14 will ask Kirtland to more aggressively monitor wells in the Ridgecrest neighborhood and to take more financial responsibility. According to the resolution, “there is no approved containment plan, no remediation plan, or ongoing effort to remove the liquid portion of the jet fuel,” nor is there any monitoring near city wells.

An official from the base announced a soil vapor extraction system—special technology that pulls fuel contamination out of the ground—will be part of a pilot program launched Jan. 18.

Public speakers at the meeting requested that the state environmental department bring the issue of Sandia National Labs’ mixed waste landfill up for a public hearing, as the public speaking section of water utility board meetings doesn’t allow for detailed testimony. Watchdog groups such as Citizen Action New Mexico are concerned that groundwater under the dump hasn’t been adequately monitored for contamination.

Issue: Drought and water conservation

Katherine Yuhas, the water utility’s conservation officer, delivered an update on monthly drought and water use.

The bad news: Dry weather patterns and low rainfall predictions don’t look to improve through March 2013. The good news: The 2011 daily average water use per person of 150 gallons dropped by two gallons in 2012. This success was attributed to marketing and advertising and means no official drought restrictions will be implemented yet.

At the recommendation of Ms. Yuhas, the board will consider implementing Stage I water restrictions at the February meeting, which could include doubling fines for wasting water (such as water that runs in to the street or watering outside of approved watering hours). A $20 water bill credit may be offered to customers who attend a class on water conservation. The board discussed other voluntary programs, such as higher rebates for people who harvest water from cisterns and rain barrels.

The next Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority board meeting is Wednesday, Feb. 27 at 5 p.m. in the Vincent E. Griego chambers of One Civic Plaza Government Center. For meeting schedules, agendas and minutes, visit the water utility information portal.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the status of R-12-14. The resolution passed by a 4 to 3 vote with two board members excused. We regret the error.