Large water leak fixed in Portales system

Water storage levels in Portales have risen 4 feet since a large leak was discovered and stopped, and three more city wells are expected to go online within the next two weeks, the city manager has said.

Portales City Manager Tom Howell made the remarks during an emergency city council meeting Friday morning at City Hall.

Howell said the water level in storage tanks was 11.1 feet, and he wanted it to rise to 15 or 16 feet before lifting emergency water restrictions. He hoped that would happen by or before Tuesday.

Now, Portales residents using city water are prohibited from most outdoor water uses.

Thursday, city employees discovered a well cap had been blown off, probably due to air pressure building up when the wells in the well field near N.M. 202 and the Texas border stopped and restarted due to a power outage last week, Howell said.

Although someone checks the wells every day, he said, the sandy soil and the unusual layout of the piping hid the leak.

Howell said he suspected the cap had been leaking to a lesser degree for some time.

One agricultural well in the field has just been converted and is serving the city, Howell said. Workers are preparing to do the same with two more.

Howell hopes to have the second well online by Thursday at the latest or Saturday at the earliest, depending on when a required part arrives, he said. He expects to have a third online within the next two weeks.

The cost of bringing the three wells online is already included in this year’s budget.

Howell said he would make a budget change to bring a fourth well onto the Portales system.

The four new wells combined would provide an estimated extra 750,000 gallons per day for the city, Howell said.

In addition, Howell would like to bring another seven wells in the southern part of the field online. He is to call engineers to get a cost estimate for the work, which will require laying pipeline and bringing electricity to the wells.

Although Mayor Sharon King suggested drilling new wells nearer existing pipeline, Howell discouraged the idea because of the cost of drilling and not knowing whether the new wells would produce enough.

Howell recommended getting a loan from the New Mexico Finance Authority to get the seven wells online.

“I would say we need to do that sooner rather than later,” said Councilor Keith Thomas.

King said she was surprised to learn three dairies were using Roosevelt County Water Cooperative water, which is purchased from the city, to water cattle.

“That’s got to be a lot of water,” she said.

Howell read recent co-op numbers showing one dairy used 1 million gallons a month, another 240,000 gallons a month and another using 102,000 gallons a month. However, Howell previously said most dairies use their own wells.

Howell also said he was working with industrial water users to create a contingency plan in case the city needed to cut water to those facilities.

In addition, Howell said he wanted to put “teeth” into the enforcement of water restrictions with a tiered system that began with a warning and went on to increasing fines.

At the end of the meeting, Portales resident Le Ette Lawrence said citizens had received conflicting information about water restrictions from the city, media and Code Red mass notification system.

Howell said city staff members would meet to look at the problems and find a solution.