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Portales reduces water flow to co-op

The city of Portales last week “reduced the flow” of water it sells to its co-op customers, leading to a flurry of complaints and concerns.

Portales City Manager Sarah Austin said the city made the decision Thursday to reduce the flow to one of the co-op’s three meters by about 200,000 gallons per day beginning Friday.

Austin said she talked to city workers who live in the co-op area – about a five-mile radius outside Portales city limits – and all said the reduction had little impact on their routine household activities. But other rural customers said their water pressure was significantly reduced.

“Friday, when I got home from work, I noticed we basically had no water pressure,” said August Cooper, a co-op customer.

“Last (Sunday) night, I couldn’t take a shower because we didn’t have enough water pressure. And then this (Monday) morning, when I got up, all of a sudden, we had water pressure,” she said.

Cooper said she is grateful she has a small family.

“I don’t have to try and get, you know, six or more people ready for the school week or the workday.”

“I literally took kind of a little spit bath last (Sunday) night just so that I would be clean to go to work. Yeah, I think that’s ridiculous. I mean, I’ve been in the military, and I’ve been all over the world. And that’s the kind of service you get in a third-world country. Not in a place where you pay as much as they make in a year,” she said.

Austin said the city sent a letter to co-op officials on Aug. 10 asking they reduce their usage, but “they’ve done nothing to reduce the amount going out.”

Austin said two of the co-ops meters use about 170,000 gallons per day, but a third meter uses 370,000 to 400,000 gallons per day.

“We’ve been in contract negotiations (with the co-op) for about a year and a half,” Austin said Monday. She said the city is asking co-op customers only use city water for household use – not for outdoor watering, which has been largely banned in the city.

“We can’t tell them to turn everyone off overnight, but we need them to cut back because of the water crisis we’re in,” Austin said.

The city in June declared a Stage 3 “water emergency” that places restrictions on customer use.

Among restrictions:

• No landscape watering except for trees, shrubs and vegetable gardens with shut-off hoses or hand-held containers.

• No residential car washing.

• No washing down pavement or sidewalks.

• No filling or refilling residential spas or swimming pools.

City officials said the restrictions were necessary due to “a combination of extended drought, extreme heat and a decline in wellfield capacity.”

Officials said late last month the water situation had not improved. One well that once pumped 450 gallons per minute was only pumping 40 gallons per minute, according to John DeSha, the city’s public utilities director.

The city had scheduled a meeting for Thursday to discuss local water issues but that meeting has since been canceled. Austin said the original meeting was intended to focus on long-term water solutions for the city, but she was concerned that the co-op issues would dominate discussion if the meeting were held.

Asked why not schedule a meeting strictly to focus on the co-op issues, Austin said, “I can do that. But I was told several times (by co-op officials) that we are not to talk to their customers.”

Roosevelt County Water Coop officials did not return multiple phone calls from The News seeking comment. They did address the reduction in water on the group’s Facebook page.

“We regret to inform you that the City of Portales has decided to arbitrarily decrease the amount of water that services your area,” one post read. “They believe that the members in this area are not adhering to the Water Restrictions they have put in place.

“Please know that the (co-op) and our attorney are working diligently to get this decision reversed, but unfortunately have been met with silence from the City officials. Contrary to what is being said, the co-op is doing its part to adhere to restrictions and inform our members of any violations.”

Michael Davidson of Portales created a Facebook page – Portales Water -- with more than 350 members. Davidson said he created the page in hopes of generating ideas and hopefully some answers. He said issues between the city and co-op have been ongoing.

“Folks are tired of the fighting, and there are a lot of innocent people getting caught in the middle,” he said.

Davidson said he also created the page out of concern.

“It will take all of us to do this, and we need to fully understand we’re not going to be able to band-aid this situation any longer. For so long, we have just dealt with the symptoms. Therefore, we still have problems. It is time for new thought.”

The city of Portales had scheduled a special meeting for 4:30 p.m. today in Council Chambers at the Memorial Building. That meeting was canceled on Tuesday afternoon.

The lone item on the agenda was an executive session to discuss limited personnel matters. Austin said she does not know the topic of the meeting, but agreed she is the council’s only employee.

“I don’t know anything,” Austin said. “I hope they’re going to tell me I’m doing a good job. I don’t let my council be blindsided by anything. I communicate closely with the mayor and with my water department.”

-- David Stevens of The News contributed to this report.

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