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BPU sends water plan back for public review

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By Tris DeRoma

The Board of Public Utilities Wednesday approved a much larger revamp of the Department of Public Utilities’ Long Range Water plan, even though the County Council asked for only minor changes.
Deputy Utilities Manager James Alarid presented two options to the board Wednesday, both designed to save the three years of work and the $90,000 invested into the plan already.
Alarid suggested to the board they choose “Option 1” an option that had the best chance of not being rejected by the state. Option 1 includes changes requested by the Los Alamos County Council, and updates by the DPU to include 2016 data.
“There’s a very good chance that the state engineer is going to reject the plan because it’s not current,” said Alarid. Alarid explained to the board that the plan, which they started in 2014, was unexpectedly put on hold due to extensive negotiations with the Los Alamos National Laboratory over water rights.
“Turns out, we’re now on pace to submit to the state engineer probably in the fall of 2017,” Alarid said to the board. “All of our data in the plan is current as of 2015. We have a whole new calendar year of 2016… there’s a very good chance that the state engineer is going reject the plan because it’s not current.”
Alarid also said during the presentation that they’ve already received informal comments from the state that DPU’s 2006 Long Range Water Plan’s projections were already out of date, something that could hamper DPU operations in the future if not brought up to date in a timely manner.
“Eventually they will mandate (a new plan) as a condition on some action they’re taking, for example on a new well permit or a renewal of sorts,” Alarid said to the BPU.
Alarid said it would cost an additional $24,000 to update the plan and to change the wording.
The timeline for Option 1 would include a public comment period in September and then final approval by the BPU and County Council in October.
Some on the board took issue with bringing it forward again for public discussion or the sake of speed and efficiency.
“Do we have to go through that procedure again, if we’re just making the changes that council recommended… then (Option 1) would include any data updates. BPU Vice Chair Steve McLin said to Alarid. “Is there a need to go back to the public and go through that procedure again?”
McLin was simply looking to avoid another year of delay in getting the plan submitted.
Alarid responded that since the plan has garnered a lot of interest from many individuals and groups in the community, “We thought it best to give the interested parties and the community a chance to weigh in on it,” Alarid said.
The BPU voted four to one for Option 1.
“Option 2” proposed minimum changes to the plan to satisfy County Council, which rejected the plan March 21 for failing to make clear that drilling for water in White Rock to secure San Juan Chama water rights was a “last contingency” and “where the actual well to be drilled is at a location to be determined in the future.” Council also requested BPU replace the term “Los Alamos County Water Utility” with  “Incorporated County of Los Alamos” wherever it’s mentioned.
The third option would be to wait a few years until negotiations with LANL over a water rights lease and a water service contract is finalized.
The plan maps out future demands for water compared to future supply, and how best to keep up with demand and to keep Los Alamos’ water rights secure. The plan includes a 40-year time line.