Officials work on long-term water plan

By Mike Linn

Portales city officials are hoping to secure the city’s water future with a three-pronged approach, emphasizing conservation, funding for a regional pipeline and the ongoing search for areas to drill into the Ogallala Aquifer.
The city’s 40-year water plan, prepared by consultant Charles Wilson of Santa Fe, estimates the city will be out of water within 15 years if none of the above-mentioned approaches are tackled.
The odds of that happening are quite slim, officials said, because city officials are searching for more places to drill and supporting local conservation.
“The plan (completed more than two years ago) outlines the anticipated needs for water over the next 40 years,” Portales Public Works Director Tom Howell said.
“It takes into account population trends, and water usage to account for those trends.”
Communities throughout the region are looking at water supply as they plan for the future. Most experts agree eastern New Mexico will be facing a serious water shortage by 2040, or sooner.
Portales owns 18 wells at Blackwater Draw, and seven wells at the Sandhill area near Boston Street.
Howell said as water levels in each well diminish so does their output per minute.
Case in point: in 1998, the seven Sandhill wells pumped about 2,000 gallons of water a minute; today that figure is down to 600 gallons a minute.
As of February 2001, the Sandhill Wellfield provided about 6 percent of the city’s water usage, while the Blackwater Draw Wellfield provided the remainder, according to Wilson’s overview.
Cost to drill into a well runs about $90,000; tack on another $150,000 by the time water from that well reaches kitchen sinks and shower heads, Howell said.
“Wells run in peaks and valleys, like landscape,” Howell said. “The water underground is like a sponge and produces better yields in areas where there is more underground gravel; the areas we’re searching for.”
By mid-summer, the city plans on beginning the process of transforming four wells previously drilled for agriculture to wells used for Portales residents, Howell said.
Wilson’s overview also mentions the need for conservation.
The city’s plan seeks to salvage about 13 percent of water used annually through education, increased water rates and drought-resistant landscaping at Eastern New Mexico University.
“The most immediate way to save water is to not overwater yards, to control water, and to practice drought-resistant landscaping,” Howell said. “The most water used per household in city limits is typically accounted for through watering yards and plants.”
Lastly, Howell said a pipeline from Ute Lake near Logan in Quay County needs to become a reality within 40 years.
City officials describe the Ute water pipeline as a $250 million project that will send water from the lake to residents in Quay, Curry and Roosevelt Counties. Entities within those counties are hoping the federal government will fund 80 percent of the project. City officials hope the state will fund 10 percent and the cities within those counties will fund the remainder.
Even if the project started today it could be upwards of 10 years before residents in Portales could use the water from the lake, officials said.
If and when that occurs, Howell said, the water from Ute Lake will account for about 75 percent of the city’s water usage.