Sandoval Signpost

 

An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
 
 

Bernalillo focuses on its water future

Signpost Staff

Ongoing work to improve Bernalillo’s water and wastewater system is taking another leap forward, although rate increases supposed to take effect years ago may give some residents sticker shock.

The latest advance is the Bernalillo Town Council approving a water-conservation plan in late August that does more than save water.

“The new plan strengthens our ability to get funding for improvements,” Mayor Jack Torres told the Signpost. “It satisfies a state requirement and increases the chance of the town getting funding from the state.”

And it is expected to save water as well. One necessity is better accounting of water use and cutting losses by making the system more efficient. The other is to get residential and commercial customers to use water more efficiently.

One step towards efficiency is installing automatic-read meters, which don’t require meter readers to enter a customer’s property. These are being bought as the town can afford them.

Another step is replacing old-style meter books that list customers out of sequence, forcing meter readers to hopscotch around neighborhoods. Besides making better use of meter readers’ time, prompt and accurate reporting can help spot leaks, the mayor said.

“One of the biggest issues in water conservation is identifying leaks immediately,” Torres said. “Even a small leak consumes so much water it’s astounding.”

The town is replacing aged water lines when it can and is looking for funding to do more, he added. The town’s consulting engineer estimates replacing the water line in the Mountain View area, which leaks an estimated two million gallons a year, will cost $1.2 million dollars and affect about 18 percent of the town’s population.

Accurate data also helps the town staff document needs and make better policy, budget, and staffing decisions, he added.

Torres said he, councilors, and staff decided they couldn’t ask for an increase in water and sewer rates until they had their own houses in order. So in addition to tackling internal inefficiencies, they’ve gone after overdue accounts, boosting the monthly collections from below seventy percent to 98 percent.

Making sure everyone pays their even share brought a decrease in average water consumption. “You’ll be careful when you’re paying,” Torres said. “There was no economic incentive to conserve.”

The city of Albuquerque achieved impressive reductions in per capita water use through subsidizing customer’s water-efficient appliances and landscaping. The town of Bernalillo plans to start by setting an example through efficient plumbing fixtures and irrigation of parks and building grounds.

With improvements in place and underway, the council approve a hike in water and sewer rates for homes and businesses taking effect with November billings. Base rates for water within the town limits jumps from $17.50 to $23.50 for homes and from $30.73 to sixty dollars for business.

The base rate also is only for two thousand gallons a month, where previously it applied to twice that. Wastewater rates are rising by similar amounts so a residential customer in the qualifying for the base rate will pay about $12 dollars more a month while a business would see base rates climb about $54 dollars a month.

New intermediate rates kick in between two thousand and 3,999 gallons, and residential users of up to 7,999 gallons a month will see base rates increase by nearly $28 dollars a month.

Details of the rate changes have been included in the monthly town newsletter sent out with utility bills. The rate increases are needed so the water and wastewater systems can pay for themselves.

“By state law, at a minimum, we have to break even,” the mayor said. “That’s not happening without a rate increase.”

Adding to any sticker shock is the town not raising rates in small increments over the years as officials agreed to do as part of paying back funds borrowed for a major upgrade of the wastewater plant.

“This should have happened over the last ten or 12 years,” Torres said. “Getting funding for the wastewater plant was good forward thinking, but the note could have been called.”

Among other projects, the Town has begun backing state funding toward a second water line across the Rio Grande to provide redundancy between the west side of town where the currently operating water wells are and the east side. The Legislature this year provided about two hundred thousand dollars toward the $1.2 million dollar project.

Meanwhile, the Town has rehabbed Well No. 2 and its storage tank on the east side of Interstate 25, north of State Road 165. For now, however, the tank can only be used to store water pumped from the west side giving east side residents a backup supply of a few days should the line across the river fail.

Well No. 2 can’t pump water until a treatment system to remove naturally occurring arsenic is in place. Torres says estimates place that cost at more than six hundred thousand dollars, which may be available in the next year or two.

Still another issue is the effect of drought and how drought restrictions are triggered if water supplies run low. “My concern is our drought ordinance is based on the level of the storage tanks,” Torres said. “It’s a different issue to say the aquifer is in trouble.”

 

 
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