Water outlook bleak for Portales

By Tony Parra: PNT Staff Writer

Charlie Wilson, a geohydrologist hired by the city of Portales, said the High Plains (Ogallala)aquifer is being depleted at a rate of two to six feet per year as part of his annual water conservation and use report.

“The use exceeds the supply,” Wilson said. “It’s not being recharged at the rate it is being pumped out.”

Wilson made his presentation during a city meeting Tuesday. According to the annual report, the average remaining aquifer thickness is 60 feet. Both Wilson and Scott Verhines, Ute Water Project manager, have contended at the current rate of water use the city of Portales will be without water in 15 to 20 years.

Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega said the continuing decline of the aquifer is a major reason to continue to pursue federal funding for the Ute Water project. The proposed project would siphon water from the Ute Reservoir near Logan and pipe it to eastern New Mexico communities.

Wilson said with the Ute Water pipeline in place, water from it and the aquifer would provide an adequate water supply for Portales.
Not all news is bad though. According to Wilson’s report, a protected water reserve has shown to be replenishing itself.

The Portales Baker Farm located east of Portales has shown that it can replenish itself if it is not being pumped and shown to be a viable water reserve.

Wilson said since city officials purchased the Portales Baker Farm in 2001 the water reserve has remained steady. Wilson said the area showed a decline since 1966 of the groundwater reserve because of agricultural pumping. No more pumping, allowed the groundwater to replenish itself.

“We have 6,000 acres,” Ortega said. “It’s a protected zone not being used for agricultural use.”

City councilors requested alternatives for water supply be brought before the city council in the next couple of months. The request would include visiting communities like Alamogordo and Cloudcroft to view their water recycling systems.

Tom Howell, public works director, advised city councilors of a proposed ordinance to put in place requirements on the industrial waste received at the city’s wastewater plant. The ordinance should come before the city council in an August meeting.

Howell said currently the sludge is being removed from the north end of the wastewater plant. He said the workers will be at the plant for the next three months removing sludge.

Ortega said he has received many calls complaining about the smell.
Howell said the ordinance would force industries to cut down on the amount of wastewater and solid waste or risk paying a fine for violations. He said the wastewater plant is not equipped to handle solids.

During the meeting, Ron Jackson, recreation board director, said rules have been posted on a sign at the new Portales Skatepark. Some of the rules are park hours, 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., children under the age of 8 must be supervised by an adult and no profanity, recklessness and boisterous behavior.

“We are going to enforce these rules,” Debi Lee, city manager, said. “We want it to be a positive recreational action for the youth of the community and not let it be dominated by kids who want to misbehave.”