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No one knows the ultimate outcome of a decision to put test well drilling in White Rock on hold indefinitely, but the hiatus has given some concerned residents a reason to hope.
“I am certainly glad that the council seems to be open-minded and trying to reach what I consider to be a more satisfactory closure than what we had,” said Milt Gillespie, whose home is within the radius that will be affected by the drilling. “I look forward to whatever discussions go forward and I certainly expect to let my opinions be made known.”
Los Alamos County Council Chair Geoff Rodgers and Utilities Board Vice Chair Tim Neal jointly announced the decision last Friday. A statement issued by the county reads:
“This hiatus will allow councilors time to better understand issues surrounding the San Juan/Chama water rights, determine appropriate policy steps, and provide direction to the Board of Public Utilities.”
Drilling at least one test well is the first step in a project to utilize the county’s 1,200 acre-feet San Juan-Chama water allotment and secure the county’s water rights. An independent legal review several years ago recommended that the county take steps to secure the water rights in order to avoid possibly losing them in the future.
A feasibility study prepared by CDM-Smith recommended three well sites in White Rock as the most viable option.
Well Site 3–located in county open space south of Pajarito Acres–provides the greatest potential to yield the 1,200 acre-feet allotment and was the first site scheduled for testing. Well Site 2 in La Senda and Well Site 1 in Overlook Park would be drilled only if it is necessary to achieve maximum capacity.
Pajarito Acres and La Senda residents have voiced opposition to the project on the county’s Open Forum web page and during three Board of Public Utilities meetings, concerned about noise and pollution during the test well drilling and possible impact if the wells are completed. Several councilors listened to residents’ concerns during a special site tour and town hall meeting on May 23.
“We appreciate the concerns and questions that residents have raised to us about the project, and we want to better understand the water rights issues and past policy discussions that have taken place. We will be working with the Utilities Board closely so that we both agree upon a path forward that is in the best interest of everyone,” Rodgers said in the Friday statement.
“I would like to assure Pajarito Acres, La Senda and White Rock residents that no action will be taken until a path has been identified and clearly communicated with them, with additional opportunities for their input before formal board or council action.”
“I am pleased by this prudent move by council and DPU,” said Linda Daly, who lives in Pajarito Acres. “There seemed to be several unanswered questions and missing steps, such as involving the Department of Energy and LANL as well as conducting an Environmental Impact Study prior to any test well drilling.”
Glen Wurden, who also lives in Pajarito Acres, was not as optimistic.
“Putting it on hold just prolongs the agony, if you will,” Wurden said.
Rather than delay action, Wurden wants the county to drill site 1 in Overlook Park, the site least likely to yield 1,200-acre-feet, or find another option. “Then they’ll figure out how hard it is to drill on this hard mesa that we’re on. They’ll find out exactly how noisy and nasty it is,” Wurden said.
“In the sense they’re putting it on hold lets them look at different options, then I’m all for it. If, on the other hand, it’s just to delay a decision further down the road, it doesn’t help anybody,” Wurden said. “Definitely putting it on hold is better than proceeding, but solving it the proper way is what we need, and I hope they do that.”
George Chandler, one of many Los Alamos residents who expressed support for the project on the Open Forum, also felt the delay was a good move.
“I want to see those wells drilled. We certainly have to secure those water rights.” Chandler said. “But finding a way to protect those in the neighborhood is a good idea. Maybe there is another way to do this, such as drilling on DOE land. I think maybe they should have looked at that more closely to begin with.”
DPU Manager John Arrowsmith also supports the decision to take a closer look.
“The San Juan-Chama water right is an important county resource that could have significant economic and environmental consequences. It is important that both the utilities board and county council are in agreement with our path forward,” Arrowsmith said.
Staff is working to determine a date in the next 60 to 90 days for a work session between council and BPU to further examine the issue.