Officials: Water restrictions could last through summer

Argen Duncan

Portales has two new wells, but mandatory water restrictions may last the rest of the summer, according to city officials.

To keep water storage levels high enough, city water users were banned from outdoor watering in late June and early July, and restrictions limiting which days users can water their yards have been in place since June 16.

“The rains have helped, because the use has come down,” City Manager Tom Howell said.

Mayor Sharon King said people watered less after the storms this week.

“Right now, our levels are holding steady,” she said.

King said mandatory water restrictions would probably last throughout the summer, since officials would be concerned until more wells were operating.

Two wells in the city well field off N.M. 202 have been hooked up to the water system, and Howell said he is waiting for approval of nitrate tests to turn on a third. He hopes to test production of a fourth existing well next week.

If that well provides enough water, Howell plans to connect it to the city water system.

Also, there are another seven unused wells in the south part of the well field. Howell said he plans to work out a schedule to test them and, if their production is sufficient, create access roads and connect electricity to them in order to pump that water into the city.

King said money that had been used for payments on a now-paid-off library bond could help pay for the work, or the city could borrow money from the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority.

“We really aren’t worried about getting the money because we’re pretty sure we could get that,” King said.

A leak created much of the water shortage that led to the ban on outdoor watering. Howell said a T-joint blew its cap, probably when wells were turned back on after a power outage.

The T-joint was underground in an unexpected place, and the water drained into a small, sandy valley. The valley and the leak were on state land, with the well and a fence between them and the road city employees drive to check pipelines and wells.

Workers stopped the leak, and Howell said an elbow joint had replaced the T-joint.

As for a long-term solution, King said a groundbreaking for the intake structure for the Ute Water Pipeline is set for 11:30 a.m. Aug. 11. Workers are to construct the building and add the mechanical parts when the pipeline is close to beginning operation.

Organizers are still working to get federal money for the project, King said.

“We’re hoping that once they see we’re far enough along to start building, they’ll start budgeting more funds for the project,” she said.

King said the state Water Trust Board is still providing financial support.