County Council Rejects DPU Water Supply Plan

Hydrologist Amy Ewing discusses the Long Range Water Supply Plan during the March 21 County Council meeting. Photo by Kirsten Laskey/
Los Alamos Daily Post

After lengthy discussion, Los Alamos County Council agreed revisions need to be made to the County’s Long Range Water Supply Plan
During its regular meeting March 21 in Council Chambers, Council voted 6-1 to reject the updated 40-year plan as presented and directed the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to correct wording concerning the Incorporated County of Los Alamos. The Council wanted certain references of “Los Alamos County Water Utilities” to be changed to the “Incorporated County of Los Alamos” to be clear on water rights ownership.

Additionally, it was approved to revise the wording regarding the use of the County’s San Juan Chama water right. Council wanted the plan to be clear that the San Juan Chama water right is a last contingency and the location of any new well will be determined in the future.

Councilor Rick Reiss cast the opposing vote. He made an original motion to approve the Long Range Water Supply Plan as it was presented to Council, saying, “We have some really big changes coming in the future … I am in favor of updating it now rather than waiting 40 years later.”
When it was suggested adding a friendly amendment to the motion, which would tack on a request to make revisions to the plan, Reiss declined the suggestion and moved to put his original motion into question. No one seconded his motion.

Deputy Manager for the Department of Public Utilities’ (DPU) Engineering Division James Alarid explained to the Los Alamos Daily Post that the next step will be to bring the plan back to the BPU for discussion at its April meeting. At that point, he said, they will work and coordinate on the Council’s direction.

According to the report in the agenda packet, the DPU contracted with Daniel B. Stephens & Associates, Inc. (DBS&A) to revise the Long-Range Water Supply Plan, which was adopted in 2006.

DBS&A updated the plan to reflect current population and water demand projections, evaluate potential climate change impacts and assess various water supply options, including the timing for development of the County’s San Juan Chama water rights.

When the plan is approved, it will be submitted to the Office of the State Engineer.

During a presentation to Council March 21, DBS&A Hydrologist, PG, Amy Ewing explained the plan’s purpose is to:

  • Evaluate projected demands in relation to available supply;
  • Consider water quality and water rights risks to the supply; and
  • Ensure both a viable physical supply and associated water rights are in place as needed to meet future demands.

The recommendations in the plan included pursuing a new water rights lease with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE); renegotiate the contract with the U.S. DOE for supplying water to Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), which expires in 2019; work closely with LANL and the New Mexico Environment Department regarding the ongoing monitoring of contaminants; continue to examine San Juan-Chama project options; and evaluate whether to initiate steps toward implementation.

Councilor Chris Chandler said she felt the plan needed some more work.
“I can’t support the plan as written,” she said.

Chandler pointed out it was incorrect to use Los Alamos County Water Utilities rather than Los Alamos County and felt the reference needed to be revised not only for the state but also for the citizens.

Additionally, she said she felt it was premature to look at the County’s San Juan Chama water right until the County works with DOE to renegotiate the contract to supply water to LANL. She felt the plan was slanted toward utilizing the San Juan Chama water right.

Chandler further stated that periodic leakage survey reports suggest that the system is losing 15-20 percent of its water through water pipe leakage and the plan does not address improving efficiency of the system.

Vice Chair Susan O’Leary said she could not support the updated plan. She also felt the plan was too aggressive in pursuing the San Juan Chama water right.

Councilor James Chrobocinski said, “A lot of good points are bringing brought up.” He pointed out that a previous idea of drilling a well in White Rock caused an uprising and he hoped White Rock residents’ issues would be addressed in the plan.

Chair David Izraelevitz said, “This is a 40-year plan (that is) renewed every 10 years. The future is hard to predict.” He added he felt the report made a good faith effort to make predictions and San Juan Chama water right would be needed at some point. “So I think that this plan doesn’t have a hidden agenda or an aggressive agenda about San Juan Chama water rights,” Izraelevitz said.

Councilor Antonio Maggiore said, “I came here really wanting to support this plan. But I am not sure in its current form I can.” Maggiore said he also was concerned that the public only had a narrow window to read and respond to it.

“I find that troubling,” he said.

Alarid told Council the plan does not advocate utilizing the San Juan Chama water right.  He explained to the Los Alamos Daily Post that the County has two water rights – one groundwater and one for surface water. The County is only using its groundwater right. DOE and the County, in total, own 5,541-acre feet of groundwater. Alarid said the County owns 70 percent and DOE owns 30 percent.

The surface water right is with San Juan Chama. It is for 1,200 acre feet of water out of the Rio Grande. The County is not currently using this water right to serve customers.

“We have adequate groundwater in our wells that are meeting our needs,” Alarid said.

DPU Public Relations Manager Julie Williams-Hill added that DPU doesn’t have a way to utilize the water from San Juan Chama.

The issue with the groundwater right is, in 2001, as part of a transaction when the DOE gave the water system to the County, DOE conveyed that the County execute a lease for their 30 percent of the water right, Alarid said. The lease gave the County the right to manage the water right they owned. Additionally, there was a provision in 2011 that the lease would need to be renewed.

DPU Manager Tim Glasco said during an interview Wednesday that he takes responsibility for missing that deadline. It was the first deadline of the first 10-year lease term and failure to submit the letter requesting the first 10-year extension was an oversight, he said.

“Submitting the letter was the department’s responsibility and yes I was in charge of the water system at that time and you could say I was the one who missed the deadline,” Glasco said.

The initial lease expired in 2011 and Glasco said his department realized the letter hadn’t been sent about a year later.

“We sent a letter to DOE saying we missed the deadline and their response was they were evaluating other needs for the water and they were not prepared to renew the lease,” he said.

As far as consequences for not meeting deadline, Alarid said, “Right now there is no consequence but there is a major thing that is tied to it. In 2019, the County and DOE will be renegotiating a 10-year contract for the County to serve water to LANL. And when we did our last contract in 2009 the County had its lease in place and had all its administrative rights for all 5,541 acre feet. Our goal is now to have a lease in place when we execute this contract in 2019.”

Editor’s note: Carol A. Clark contributed to this story.