A place at the (water) table
Authority approves $15,000 to assist in assessing water contamination
Last updated 2/23/2019 at 12:45pm
CLOVIS - Compared to the $28 million price tag for the interim groundwater pipeline section on which the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority breaks ground Tuesday, another few thousand dollars isn't much. Moreover in the eyes of board members, it's also a worthwhile investment for possibly bringing the organization into forthcoming discussions on the water contamination situation around Cannon Air Force Base.
The ENMWUA board on Thursday approved a $15,000 "scope of work" agreement with King Industries, represented Thursday by former state engineer Tom Blaine, to "develop conceptual plans relating to the PFAS/PFOA contamination adjacent to Cannon Air Force Base."
Base officials in August said they were assessing the potential chemical contamination stemming from past military firefighting exercises. And in October the New Mexico Environment Department reported those chemicals detected in levels exceeding federal human health advisories in private groundwater wells around Clovis. State lawmakers soon called for a more comprehensive response from the Air Force, and by year's end NMED issued the service a notice of violation for failing to properly address the issue.
Calls for action continued into the new year, including a resolution this month from Curry County requesting another town hall meeting on the matter within a month's time.
Water authority Chairman David Lansford said it was about time ENMWUA try to get a "seat at the table" while the state and the military proceed at their stuttering pace to address the matter as a contamination possibly spreads rather than diminishes.
"We felt like - or I did - that the authority is a stakeholder in this contamination issue at Cannon, just like the city of Clovis is a stakeholder, Curry County is a stakeholder. We all have an interest in this contamination being remediated," Lansford said.
"Rather than just throw stones at the Air Force and demand results, we thought maybe it's good to be part of the solution as opposed to just sitting on the sidelines and saying 'Hurry up, do something about it.'"
The scope of work describes a forbidding future if intervening action does not take place.
"There are many paleo channels in close proximity of the contamination plume," it says. "Given the location of these channels, it is expected that the contamination will spread at an accelerated rate within these channels."
The approach proposed by King Industries includes the development of graphical renderings of the contamination, meetings with stakeholders, and a presentation to the base "that will describe a collaborative approach between all stakeholders," as well as short-term and long-term plans to address the matter.
"It is not acceptable for the USAF to delay the clean-up of the PFAS/PFOA contamination in this critical and limited groundwater resource," concludes the document. "Any delay will result in further contamination of the aquifer and increased social impacts, socioeconomic impacts and, most significantly, water quality impacts."
Payment for the work comes from the Curry County Environmental Gross Receipts Tax through an intergovernmental services agreement with the city of Clovis, Lansford said. This way it's only stakeholders putting in money for the work.
"A priority for me personally, as the mayor of Clovis, is to work toward sustaining Cannon Air Force Base, and I work hard at that, and I think that this is an effort to be proactive," Lansford said.
ENMWUA board member and Clovis City Commissioner Chris Bryant said he agreed with Lansford's support of the collaborative efforts.
"Even though the federal government, I think, is telling us they're working on this, I think as a community, as a water authority and a county that we need to address this and try to move forward with some solutions," Bryant said. "Try to work with Cannon as to finding a feasible solution to solving this, because we've got to protect our groundwater. That's all it comes down to."
Thursday's two-hour meeting opened with discussion and approval of the final addition to Fixed Water 2 - 7 1/2 miles of 33-inch transmission pipeline starting northwest of Cannon and continuing south and east toward EPCOR's water storage system near Martin Luther King Boulevard and Brady Avenue.
The pipeline will access interim groundwater sources for Clovis and base residents and ultimately connect with a long-term supply at the Ute Reservoir in Quay County.
Notice to proceed on construction was issued in November for Oscar Renda Contracting, Inc., and Lansford noted in a press release that FW2 was the first phase of the Interim Ground Water Project, which was in turn the "next and most essential phase of the Ute Water Project in both the short and intermediate term."
Most of the project was approved for development last year, but additional phases were added as funds became available.
At Thursday's meeting the board approved the final component, the "Cannon lateral," but not without some opposition from a representative of the four smaller communities that contribute to ENMWUA.
Elida Mayor Durward Dixon said he was speaking for himself as well as his counterparts in Texico, Grady and Melrose in stating opposition to the Cannon lateral component of the pipeline, since the base does not directly pay member dues.
ENMWUA attorney Dave Richards said the base was restricted from doing as much due to federal regulations prohibiting it from being a part of a joint powers agreement. Lansford said the city of Clovis supplies the base's member contribution and that it was required for the base to have a redundant water supply to stay viable as a military installation. Overall, Lansford continued, the base's endurance "is in everyone's best interest in eastern New Mexico."
Dixon said he loves the pipeline project, loves the base and has no problem with them having water, but he had to make himself and his counterparts in smaller communities heard.
ENMWUA board member and Curry County Commissioner Robert Thornton spoke to that point later in the meeting, asking if the rotating board position among the four smaller community representatives could be alternated across individual monthly meetings in the case of a short-term absence. Richards said he would have to look at ENMWUA's statute, which might require adjustments to accommodate that much.
Dixon said he was also troubled, in the context of the chemical contamination stemming from the base, by remarks from Air Force representatives that its priorities were with impacts to human drinking water rather than agriculture.
"As an ag provider, that's a bit of a knife in my back on top of everything else," he said.
In his report to the board, ENMWUA Administrator Orlando Ortega detailed plans for the groundbreaking ceremony on FW2, construction of which is already in progress. The event starts at noon Tuesday at ENMWUA offices with comments from board members as well as congressional, federal and state officials.
ENMWUA's new mission statement will be unveiled, and at 1:15 p.m. the group will travel to the construction site and hope the weather cooperates long enough for a photo.