BPU to hear update on San Juan/Chama water

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Utilities > Wells likely to come to the forefront again

By Arin McKenna

Los Alamos Department of Public Utilities staff will update the Board of Public Utilities on the San Juan Chama Water Project and the 40-year Water Plan at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in the boards and commissions room at the municipal building.
A proposal to capture the county’s San Juan/Chama water allotment by digging wells in the White Rock area sparked protests from residents in 2013. County council directed staff to cease design of the test well located at Site 3 in White Rock and to explore alternatives.
Council instructed DPU to approach Los Alamos National Laboratory for permission to place the wells on Department of Energy property south of White Rock. DPU made a formal proposal for three possible well sites in that area.
DOE/NNSA responded that it was not able to grant an easement or right of way for well drilling or construction on those sites. In a letter dated Jan. 29, 2014, Los Alamos Site Office Acting Manager William J. White informed County Administrator Harry Burgess that the proposed sites were not feasible due to safety, security, cultural and environmental concerns.
“There are a number of cultural sites that would require costly mitigation actions and consultation with the state and tribal governments,” White wrote.
Council also requested a legal opinion about the feasibility of using the San Juan/Chama surface water right from existing ground water wells.
The county attorney investigated this and briefed the board in May that it is possible to use the SJC surface water right through existing ground water wells, but it is dependent on the proximity and hydraulic connectivity to the Rio Grande.
Based on advisement by the State Engineers Office during the preparation of the Preliminary Engineering Report, a well would have to be as close as possible to the river and anything over a mile would not be worth investigating. The closest existing groundwater production well is 3.8 miles from the Rio Grande.
Council also insisted that when the development of the SJC project does move forward, an environmental assessment must be completed as the first step to address concerns raised by citizens. DPU has budgeted for an environmental assessment in FY2015 and will continue to do so as a path forward is determined.
A citizen has approached the Community and Economic Development Department about designating the trail leading to proposed SJC well Site No. 3 a historic trail. The application to request historical status requires the signature of the property owner, which is the county.
Council also advised staff to pursue the development of new water wells to replace existing wells at the end of their lifespan, in order to ensure an adequate water supply as decisions are made on the path forward to develop SJC water. DPU has been coordinating three projects with DOE/NNSA to bring two new wells into production and reestablish production from a third existing well.
Easements and environmental clearances for the installation of a new transmission line through an alternate path and booster station on DOE/NNSA property is ongoing to bring Otowi Well No. 1 back into production. The well has been offline due a number of leaks in the transmission line located under the Main Hill road. The project has been designed and will be bid for construction once DOE/NNSA easements are acquired.
DPU has submitted proposed sites for replacement wells for Pajarito Well Nos. 1 and 2 to DOE/NNSA for environmental clearance. Once the sites are approved DPU will prepare easement documents for execution and begin permitting for the replacement wells.
On Wednesday, DPU staff will also update the board on the 40-year water plan.
The plan completed in 2006 projected population growth that has not occurred, and other new developments are underway that could affect planning.
LANL will soon begin drilling its first test well to evaluate the feasibility of pumping chromium contaminated ground water, treating the water and discharging the water on the surface.
This project, if implemented, could equate to more than 1290 acre-feet of water rights needed annually.
LANL has also informed DPU that it is planning a large supercomputing center, requiring a sizeable increase in electric load. Increased electric load typically requires a significant amount of cooling water.
BPU plans to issue a Request for Proposals to revise the 40-year Water Plan. The revised plan will provide a timeframe regarding the need to develop the SJC water to meet increased demands in the community.
DPU staff is recommending that BPU and council delay any further direction on developing the SJC water until the revised 40-Year Water Plan is completed.
A briefing for council on the San Juan/Chama water project is tentatively scheduled for July 8.