BPU recommends delaying a decision on San Juan/Chama

-A A +A

County > Revised water plan could include pertinent information

By Arin McKenna

The Los Alamos County Board of Public Utilities is recommending that any action on the San Juan/Chama water project be delayed until the county’s 40-year plan is revised.
The project was delayed in 2013 when White Rock residents protested a proposal to dig one to three wells in the area to capture the county’s 1,200-acre-feet San Juan/Chama water allotment.
A staff report presented to BPU on Wednesday recommended waiting until the study is complete for several reasons.
According to the report, the plan, completed in 2006, projected population growth that has not occurred, and the plan needs to be adjusted accordingly.
Two developments at Los Alamos National Laboratory may also impact the plan.
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 fully implemented, could equate to more than 1,290-acre-feet of water rights annually.
Although LANL is looking at possible uses for the treated water, it will not be ejected back into the groundwater.
The county and the lab have 5,441.3-acre-feet combined water rights. Of that, 1,662-acre-feet are owned by LANL, with the county owning 3,878-acre-feet. Combined usage is 75.7 percent of the allotment over the last seven years, with LANL using approximately 72 percent of their allotment.
Two wells for pumping and treating groundwater would take LANL to its maximum, and the project may require several wells.
One resident questioned why LANL would have access to the county’s water allotment if it exceeds its own.
“Our contract is silent on the limit of water right that we deliver to them, but there are provisions that protect the county,” said Deputy Utilities Manager for Engineering James Alarid. “We’re not obligated, by any means. It specifically says if it creates a hardship on other customers, it’s a consideration. We’re obligated to serve them water until 2019 under our water contract, but it is a coordinated effort. So I don’t think we have the firm obligation to meet any large demand that they would thrust upon us. It’s just a matter of working together as partners, and this is a new development that we haven’t had to deal with before.”
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.
During public comment, Councilor Pete Sheehey discussed information he obtained from LANL concerning just that.
LANL has significantly reduced water usage in recent years. If the supercomputing facility comes online, Sheehey estimates LANL’s usage will increase by approximately 100 million gallons, or 300-acre-feet, which would be just slightly above FY2011 levels.
Board Chair Timothy Neal raised a question about aquifer levels.
Deputy Utilities Manager for Gas, Water and Sewer Tim Glasco responded that LANL hydrologists are projecting that the recharge rate for the aquifer is greater than what the county is drawing from it. Glasco did not have projections for what effect using 100 percent of the water rights would have.
One resident also questioned those projections, saying that monitoring wells at LANL have recorded declines in the aquifer over the last 15 years.
“It seemed to be something on the order of a one to two foot decline per year on the regional aquifer. I’m not sure what hydrologists at the lab you’re talking to, but when you’re looking at computer simulations to make projections of this nature, and there are observations that are published in LAUR (techincal) reports annually, I think it would be wise to also consider those.”
San Ildefonso also has lands over the aquifer.
“They are completely unregulated by the state. All they have to do is get on the phone and call a driller and drill a well,” Glasco said.
Neal also pointed out that a year ago BPU received a memo warning San Juan/Chama water recipients to expect a 20 percent reduction in their allotment due to drought.
Glasco pointed out that the Bureau of Reclamation may reduce the allotment but not deny it entirely.
“Our contract with the Bureau of Reclamation is a payment contract, which means that we actually are paying off the mortgage, if you will, on the facilities, and we will have an ownership interest in those when we finish paying off about two years from now,” Glasco said. “So for them to take our contracts away would be an unconstitutional taking, because we own parts of those facilities. We would have to be reimbursed for those facilities that we have paid for.”
Michael DeRosa suggested that if the San Juan/Chama water is not needed, it be left in the Rio Grande and sold to the Bureau of Reclamation, provided that met the requirement for “beneficial use” to secure the water right.
“I think in times of drought the Bureau of Reclamation would be happy to have that water on hand for deliveries further south,” DeRosa said.
Glasco asked board members to entertain a new perspective regarding the San Juan/Chama water.
“We should look at the San Juan/Chama water not as a reserve in times of drought, but rather as a primary source during times of plenty to allow the aquifer to recover,” Glasco said.
One resident questioned a plan to bring Otowi Well No. 1 back into production by constructing a new transmission line through an alternate path and booster station on DOE/NNSA property, contending that the water in that well does not meet safety standards.
Glasco responded that, although there have been two separate water quality issues in the past, the well is now testing within safety standards.
BPU plans to issue a Request for Proposals to revise the 40-year Water Plan in July, and would anticipate having a contractor for board approval in September. The study should take approximately six months.
A staff briefing for county council on the San Juan/Chama water project is tentatively scheduled for July 8.
The board directed staff to inform council that it cannot adopt a position on the project until the revision of the 40-year plan is completed.
Neal also asked staff to inform council about the possibility that the county may not receive its full 1,200-acre-feet allotment.
Board member Stephen Tenbrink asked staff to pursue actual data about aquifer levels, not just computer projections.