Homeowners brace for White Rock well drilling

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Pajarito Acres > Residents concerned about impact of site

By Arin McKenna

Approximately 20 Pajarito Acres residents attended a homeowner’s association meeting Tuesday to express concerns that some have about drilling the first well for the San Juan Chama Water Project on public lands next to the subdivision.

Department of Public Utilities Senior Engineer Jack Richardson made efforts to alleviate those fears.

“There was some passionate discussion about the loss of serenity for the park where the proposed well site 3 is located. There was some discussion about the need for the project in general but the discussion brought almost everyone around to the idea that this is a good and important project for the county as a whole,” Richardson said.

“Not everyone was satisfied but everyone left understanding why the county continues to move forward — at least through the first exploratory test well phase before making the final go-no go decision.”

Pajarito Acres Homeowners Association President Dick Foster believes that residents understand the need for the project and felt that Richardson adequately addressed their concerns.

“I think he answered everyone’s questions, Foster said. “Some things he can’t predict, but he seemed very forthcoming. I’m sure Jack and whoever is involved with the project will do their best to mitigate the impact.”

The goal of the project is to access 1,200 acre-feet of water that Los Alamos County is entitled to but has lacked the infrastructure to utilize.

“We’re concerned that if we don’t use this water we lose it,” Richardson said. “There’s a legitimate concern that it is a possibility. So it’s really important to the county to help expand their water portfolio.”

The increased water supply will help the county meet future demands for growth and reduce the need to replace existing wells that are at the end of their service life.

A 2010 study conducted by CDM Smith found that the most viable alternative for utilizing that resource was to dig one to three wells in the White Rock area to intercept groundwater before it discharges to the Rio Grande. If the first well captures the 1,200 acre-feet, the other two wells will not be drilled, although estimates are that this well will yield only 50 to 80 percent of the total.

The maximum capital cost of the project (for three wells) is $27 million, with close to $43 million in 100-year maintenance.

The project, which is in the preliminary stages, has stirred up numerous concerns among local residents. The Pajarito Acres Homeowners Association has been keeping residents posted on its website (pahoa.org), with links to the project webpage on the DPU website and Richardson’s answers to a range of questions concerning the project.

The impact of the construction itself is the most immediate concern, although drilling will not begin before May.
DPU is currently developing a contract for engineering services that comes before the board on Feb. 20 and before council sometime in March (date to be determined).

An archeology survey is being conducted this week. If that yields no significant findings, a site survey and legal description will be completed and an ordinance written to remove the site from its “open space preservation” designation (Ordinance 252). The ordinance will have to be approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission and adopted by the county council.

If all goes according to plan, drilling would begin in May and end by August.

The three- to four-month drilling period will have the greatest impact on local residents.

“It’s going to be loud during the well drilling, there’s no question about that,” Richardson said. “We’re going to get in and out as soon as we can, which means we’ll be drilling 24/7 for two to three months. And then we’ll be running some generators to do the test pumping another month, on and off.”

Richardson explained the need to drill round the clock.

“That’s the quickest way to get it done, and because we’re drilling a well, it’s not smart to start and stop, because it destabilizes the formation, which can cause cave ins or other problems a thousand feet below the ground,” Richardson said. “And then basically, you might have to start over, which could prolong the process.”

Fewer than a dozen homes are within 1,000 feet of the site, with the closest one approximately 450 feet away. Residences nearest to the site will be protected from direct impact by a hill between them and the site. Dwellings 600 to 800 feet out will have a more direct line of site.

“We’re going to try to mitigate it with noise and light barriers,” Richardson said. “Typically, in a situation like this, the well driller will put up a 20-foot high temporary fence with noise blankets which would direct the noise away from the homes into the canyon, toward the DOE lands to the south.”

After the test pumping is completed, things will be quiet for nine to 12 months as staff runs computer modeling, develops final designs and obtains permits.

If testing shows the well is viable, a second and less intrusive round of construction would begin in the spring of 2014 as the well house and fencing are built.

The site is large enough that the staging area for equipment will be entirely contained within it. DPU will notify residents when heavy equipment is being moved through the neighborhood.

Residents are concerned about the aesthetics of the well house. The project budget includes enough funding to enhance the structure.

“We envision a fairly nice looking building,” Richardson said.

Options include surfacing the building with native stone and surrounding it with a brown chain link fence or surrounding the entire property with a wall of native stone softened by landscaping. DPU will seek citizen input on the final design.

Once the well is up and running, impact on the neighborhood should be minimal. The well house will muffle the sound of the pump, although those hiking near the structure will hear a small hum when it is running. Unless there is a need run some nighttime maintenance, the property will be dark.

DPU will work with Open Space Specialist Craig Martin to relocate any trails disturbed by construction.