DOE officials say no to San Juan/Chama well sites

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County > White Rock drilling may still be in play

By The Staff

 Los Alamos Department of Public Utilities was notified by the Department of Energy that it was not able to grant an easement or right of way on proposed DOE sites for well drilling or construction.
Responding to DPU’s request to develop the 1,200-acre feet of San Juan-Chama water on DOE land in lieu of county property in White Rock, DOE stated in its Jan. 29 letter that the proposed sites were not feasible due to safety, security, cultural and environmental concerns.
The letter, written by Los Alamos Site Office acting manager William J. White to county administrator Harry Burgess, said, “there are a number of cultural sites that would require costly mitigation actions and consultation with the state and tribal governments.
“At this point, the government is not able to grant an easement or right of way for well sites proposed for the San Juan/Chama Project.”
A September 2012 preliminary engineering report prepared by CDM-Smith assessed five options and the feasibility of each for DPU to develop its San Juan-Chama surface water right under contract with the Bureau of Reclamation.
CDM-Smith recommends the fifth alternative which requires drilling one to three groundwater wells at the edge of White Rock Canyon on county-owned property. The wells would be strategically placed to capture groundwater flowing into the Rio Grande and then conveyed through pipelines and tied into White Rock’s water distribution system. The preliminary engineering report is available on the County’s website: http://losalamosnm.us/utilities/DPUDocuments/DPU_BR120925SJCWaterSupplyF....
This alternative was met with opposition from White Rock citizens. Last June, the county council and Board of Public Utilities put the project on hold and directed the DPU at a subsequent Council meeting in August to initiate discussions with the DOE. Specifically to investigate whether or not the DOE would permit drilling groundwater wells on DOE property to allow the County to develop the San Juan-Chama water right. Further, the council directed the county attorney to seek a legal opinion on various issues.
As of this date, the county attorney has not received the legal opinion.
Additional information on the project can be found on the project page: http://losalamosnm.us/projects/utilities/Pages/SanJuanChamaWaterUseStudy...
The hiatus, meanwhile, was intended to give 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, according to a statement released by the county.
Public concerns over the test wells were voiced during a May 23 Special Board of Public Utilities meeting and on the county’s “Open Forum” page. Rodgers emphasized that the community as a whole owns the water rights and therefore, it is important for the council to weigh in on this issue.
“The councilors are committed to thoroughly examining and evaluating the 40-year Water Plan, the county’s San Juan/Chama water rights, and previous council policy direction to the Board of Public Utilities,” council chair Geoff Rodgers said at the time.
An independent legal review several years ago recommended that the county take steps to secure the water rights in order to avoid losing the rights in the future. The recommendation has been the driving force for the Utilities Department to proceed, with alternatives documented in a feasibility study prepared by CDM-Smith and presented to the council last year.
The study documented various alternatives and a wide range of costs for developing the water with a preferred option to drill test wells located in White Rock Canyon, preserved open space near Pajarito Acres and La Senda subdivisions in White Rock.
“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,” Rodgers said at the time. “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. 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.”