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LA Ski Club seeks aid for water infrastructure aid

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County > Plan could help Pajarito Mountain and economic development

By Arin McKenna

At Tuesday’s meeting, Los Alamos Ski Club President Phillip Rae asked the Los Alamos County Council to consider assisting the club with the development of a reliable water source.

“Pajarito Mountain is an asset to the whole community and to all of Northern New Mexico,” Rae said. “It is a small ski area, but with good snow it is one of the best ski areas. It’s also a resource that can be used to increase the county’s economic base.”

Rae noted that skiers spend money while in Los Alamos and that the ski area is one attraction for those considering relocation, and that LASC makes their facilities available for community activities.

A shortage of water is a major obstacle facing the ski resort.

“There is no active water source on our property or even close to our property,” Rae said. “What we need is a reliable water source to keep Pajarito as a viable business.”

The membership approved a 40-acre snowmaking system, but a limited water supply restricts its use.

“The winter activities are our economic life blood. We can make a profit on what we do in the summer, but it is a pretty small percentage of our profit compared to a successful ski season,” Rae said. “Principally, we need a defined opening date. When people are planning their Christmas vacations, they like to know we will be open on a given date.”

LASC has explored two plans for solving the problem.

Option 1 would run a pipeline from the Los Alamos Reservoir to the ski mountain. LASC could fill its holding pond in the spring before the county’s peak summer watering schedule kicks in.

Estimated cost for that option is $2.8 million, since it requires three miles of pipeline with a 1,600-foot elevation gain and several pumping stations. It would also require easements on San Ildefonso land, which the county is negotiating to obtain through a land swap.

Pajarito Mountain is part of the Los Alamos Canyon watershed, so water from the mountain would help to replenish the reservoir.

Option 2 involves digging a 1,500- to 2,000-foot well at the base of Pajarito Mountain.

A well would not only provide water for snowmaking, but serve as a source of drinking water which could be used for future development on the mountain. Rae also suggested that the well could be used as a replacement for one of the county’s aging wells.

The estimated cost is $250,000 to $500,000 to dig the test well, and an additional $1 million to develop the well if it proves viable.

The plan would require a new water permit from the state but no land easements.

LASC is seeking the county’s help with financing the project. Rae believes state funding may be available, but that the club is unlikely to be able to raise the entire amount necessary for matching funds.

Rae touted a recent survey asking LASC members if they were willing to consider new economic development on the mountain or utilities development for the county. Ninety-four percent of the 353 respondents approved the proposal. The membership has been opposed to outside development in the past.

Economic development could make the well project eligible for LEDA (Local Economic Development Act) funding. County Administrator Harry Burgess said the county is considering seeking expert advice on possibilities for development on the mountain.

Rae also noted that the project would make more water available for firefighting.

Council was generally willing to consider county funding, but also urged LASC to explore private sector funding sources.

“The ski club and the ski area are some real assets to this town, and not just recreational assets. They’re an economic asset. There is a lot of potential to stimulate local businesses as well as attract people to work here,”

Councilor Pete Sheehey said. “So I think it is justified for the county to consider making a smart investment in something like this. Furthermore, having that pond on top of Pajarito Mountain full during every fire season is an insurance policy we need.”

Council also heard the Department of Public Utilities master plan for developing the county’s nonpotable water system.

The plans would maximize use of treated effluent (reclaimed) water from wastewater treatment facilities and captured untreated surface and subsurface water such as that at the Los Alamos Reservoir for watering parks and public spaces.

The system would bring nonpotable water to 20 additional sites in Los Alamos and five additional sites in White Rock. It would replace six percent of the potable water now used for landscaping.

The entire plan, if approved, would cost $10,813,000. Work would start in 2016 and be completed in phases through 2039.