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Portales approves water purchase contract

The Portales City Council unanimously approved a water purchase contract with the Roosevelt County Water Cooperative (RCWC), which increases the rates the coop pays the city for water it then will provide to its customers at the rate the RCWC will set.

The city recently instituted a water rate increase across the board for all its customers in an effort to conserve water: residential, commercial, industrial, and the Roosevelt County Water Cooperative. The reason for the rate hike is the city's source of water, the High Plains Aquifer, is being depleted, experts say.

Austin told The News on Thursday that the "graph does not reflect the connection fee of $15,000 per month, which is about $1.00 extra on the bill for the coop. The city is charging their rates to the coop as the coop is the customer. The city does not regulate, set rates, or have any business with any customer that is on the coop water system. These rates were provided to the coop as our customer.

"The coop will be paying less than city residents because they are charged a base rate of 1,000 gallons. The city residents pay a base rate of $16.68 per 2,000 gallons and then city residents pays a per 1,000 gallon minimum depending on the amount after the initial 2,000 gallons."

Austin said at the meeting that the coop "anticipates" it will charge its customers $86.02 for the first 3,000 gallons as shown in the above graph. The News could not confirm this information with the coop by press time. Attempts to reach on Thursday Ursula Parker, general manager, and the board members at the RCWC were unsuccessful.

City Clerk Joan Martinez-Terry said the water purchase agreement is a "four (4) year contract from the date signed by the principles and will terminate on the 1st day of September 2026."

In other business, the council heard a presentation, "Overview of City of Portales 2021 Water Supply and Demand" Report, Prepared by Dr. Charles R. Wilson, Consultant, LLC.

Wilson said the data in the report is based on 2021 information. There has not been "a lot of change in the last three to four years. The reports look similar from year-to-year and that's a problem actually.

"It could be until 2030 before Portales sees any of that water from the Ute Reservoir" that is planned to be pumped through a pipeline to residents in Portales, he said. "It is very important that we reduce our water use now to bridge that gap" until the pipeline is operational and can deliver the water.

The city currently draws it water from the Blackwater Wells Field, he said. "The average thickness of the city's wells is now only 28 feet." At "one time" the depth of the water was 50-60 feet.

The city's "peak summer water demands are already very difficult to meet," he said.

One solution is for the city to purchase more wells, but "that is expensive," he said. Another option is to reduce the city's demands on water.

"I believe we have enough water to get us through to" the time when the city has access to the Ute Reservoir water, provided the city uses conservation measures, he said.

"A water rate increase is one of the most effective ways to decrease demand," he said.

The city also instituted mandatory watering restrictions in an attempt to reduce the demand.

When the pipeline is operational and water can be delivered to Portales, the city's supply will be 100 million gallons a day more than the current demand, he said. "The Ute supply is the light at the end of the tunnel."

Also on the agenda, the city named the Portales Fire Department "Employee of the Year 2022."

"They have done an outstanding job," Austin said. "They give up a lot of time away from their families and to the community."

And finally, Mayor Ron Jackson said at the end of the meeting he was concerned "with the homeless being out in the frigid weather and asked if we had any shelters for that and I responded with no," Austin said in an email. The microphone in the recording went out then so The News had to ask Austin.

"However, Quaylene Parkey stated that the Ministerial Alliance will provide options for those in need," she said in the email.