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Nonpotable water plan gets further review

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Design > Priority recommendations can go forward

By Arin McKenna

The Board of Public Utilities got its first look at a Master Plan for a nonpotable water system last week. After lengthy discussion, the board directed staff and Forsgren Associates Inc., who developed the plan for the county, to clarify some issues and return for further review.
The board did, however, direct staff to move forward with contracting an engineering consultant to design a nonpotable water master plan for the master plan’s priority 1/phase 2 projects, which would complete the Group 12 tank connection.
James Alarid, deputy utilities manager — engineering, urged the board to approve at least that much in order to take advantage of grant/loan funds from the New Mexico Water Trust Board and Finance Authority.
DPU spent $200,000 of the grant/loan on the master plan and had set aside $160,000 for design of initial high priority projects. Those projects would be eligible for additional funding from the NMWTBFA, but designs must be shovel ready by April, 2014 or DPU will have to wait another year to apply for grant/loan funding.
“If you approve design work for phase 1 and 2 projects, that gives us the best chance to complete a lot of work in a short period,” Alarid said.
The goal of the nonpotable master plan is to 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 plan would help the county meet its sustainability goals.
Forsgren identified 20 additional sites in Los Alamos and five additional sites in White Rock that could utilize nonpotable water if the infrastructure were improved. The entire plan, if approved, would cost $10,813,000.
Kirsten Heins, project manager, Jason Broome, senior project manager and Donzil Worthington, NM division manager presented Forsgren’s report.
If the master plan is approved, build out would start in 2016 and be completed in phases through 2039.
However, the board raised several objections to the plan, particularly Chair David Powell.
“Where’s this money going to come from? Who’s going to foot the bill for the capital costs. Are we going to ask the potable water user to subsidize the nonpotable water users?” Powell said. “I can’t support the concept. Users of the services need to pay for those services. Other folks shouldn’t be asked to subsidize those particular users.”
The plan calls for nonpotable water rates to pay for operations and maintenance as well as repair and replacement costs, but not for infrastructure.
Alarid said that the plan was to continue funding nonpotable water infrastructure through water production grant/loan funds from the NMWTBFA. The county has used those funds to build nonpotable systems to the North Mesa soccer fields and ball fields, the middle school and Overlook Park. The golf course has used effluent water since it opened.
“We are not budgeting money, but we will make application whenever we can to get money,” Alarid said. “It’s strictly our luck in getting those funds to build the system now. It became pretty apparent that we can’t build at a rate that’s going to be acceptable through capital improvement. We simply will not build any more infrastructure unless we get some outside funding source.”
Powell and Vice Chair Timothy Neal were both concerned about where the money to pay back the loans would come from.
Neal was also concerned about reclaimed water that is currently being diverted to Los Alamos National Laboratory wetlands in Pueblo Canyon, one of the areas used to filter out contaminants. The wetlands currently receive approximately half the county’s effluent water free of charge because the county does not have the infrastructure to utilize it.
Initial conversations with LANL place the estimate of what the lab would need at approximately 20 percent of the county’s effluent. The consultants asked for direction about whether the lab should be charged for that once the infrastructure is built to divert that water elsewhere.
Neal asked if the county was required to provide that water to the wetlands.
“There is no formal commitment for water. They just assumed that the water was going to be there forever, “ said Senior Engineer Jack Richardson. “When we started the report, one of the mandates was, how can we use all of our effluent as reclaimed water? So that immediately puts us in conflict with the lab and their assumption, that water was going to be free forever.
“We feel an obligation to help them maintain those wetlands. Now, how do we do that: through payment, through free water and how much?”
Powell also questioned the mandate to “maximize” the use on nonpotable water.
“I wonder if a more appropriate goal would be to optimize that use,” Powell said. “It seems to me that some of the potential users are so far away from the main source that that water’s going to be extremely expensive to get to them.”
Richardson said that was why the masterplan recommended phasing in the work.
“You don’t have to do these phases. If you think it’s too expensive for the cost/benefit, we don’t do it,” Richardson said. “That’s why it was split up into so many multiple projects and so many multiple phases. The sites we did pick are closest to the backbone that serves the larger sites.”
The master plan is scheduled to come to council for approval Aug. 13, but that may have to be delayed until the board approves the plan. Forsgren will present the revised plan at BPU’s Aug. 21 meeting. The masterplan is available for viewing in the July 17 BPU agenda packet.