Emergency water restrictions remain in place

Alisa Boswell

An emergency alert prohibiting outdoor water use for Portales residents was issued Wednesday morning but Xcel Energy officials were still without a definitive answer on what caused loss of power at one city well, triggering a shutdown of all 28 wells.

The alert was issued when an electrical breaker at one city well tripped open, cutting off power. Officials said under normal circumstances, the breaker should have automatically closed after a few minutes to resume providing power to the electrical connection. But for unknown reasons it didn’t and the loss of power shut down all city water wells for 27 minutes.

“Often when a breaker opens, it is because the protective equipment on the line senses a problem (such as debris on the line),” Xcel Energy spokesman Wes Reeves said. “Normally when a breaker opens as a precaution, it will close back automatically, which did not happen.”

According to Portales City Manager Tom Howell, the city’s two water tanks dropped from 15 feet of water to 10 feet during the time the wells stopped pumping.

“We will probably be back to 15 feet tomorrow,” Howell said. “I’m hoping by the morning we’ll be back to normal mandatory everyday water routines. We appreciate the citizens cooperating with us and abiding with what we are doing.”

Howell said once the wells were pumping water into the tanks again, the water rose from 10 feet to 11.6 feet in four hours, which makes city officials feel hopeful the water tanks will be filled back to their usual three million gallons by early morning hours today.

“We don’t know what happened,” Reeves said. “There wasn’t any apparent damage to the well but it did stop water flow for 27 minutes.”

Reeves said the automatic reclosure mechanism on the breaker appeared to have malfunctioned momentarily but once manually closed, it was working normally again.

He said Xcel officials patrolled the water line with the breaker and found no evidence of any equipment damage or malfunctioning, so all officials can conclude for now is it was a temporary malfunction.

Howell said previous water restrictions for outdoor watering placed on the city remain in place due to the current drought conditions in New Mexico. He said Portales residents are asked to voluntarily follow the odd-even outdoor watering restrictions each summer. If residents do not comply and the water tanks get too low, then the restrictions become mandatory.

“What’s happening is that we are trying to balance the load of water that people are using,” Howell said. “Then in theory, we should have only half the people using outdoor water at one time in order to increase the water in the tanks in case of fires.”

Howell said if water conditions worsen, the next level of restriction would be to completely prohibit all outdoor water activities, such as yard watering and car washing, but he does not believe conditions will worsen.

He said it would take an extraordinary circumstance, such as a well being damaged and breaking down, to cause the city to enact further restrictions .

“If things stay the way they are now then no, I don’t think we will increase restrictions,” Howell said. “As long as people keep doing what they are doing now, we should be okay.”