County hears about Magdalena well situation

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Socorro
The Socorro County Commission received an update on the Magdalena water crisis during its regular meeting Tuesday.
County fire marshal and emergency services coordinator Fred Hollis said Magdalena first reported to his office last Wednesday that they were running out of water in the village well.

National Radio Astronomy Observatory employees Shane Baca and Matt Metevier direct drinking water from the Very Large Array water system into a tanker for delivery to the village of Magdalena. The village's main well went dry on June 5, and residents have relied largely on water brought in from outside since then. To date, NRAO has donated more than 177,000 gallons of water to Magdalena.

Since June 7, Hollis and other county staff have been working 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. driving truckloads of water to the village. He estimated they bring up between 40,000 and 50,000 gallons of water per day. Due to these efforts, the majority of the village has water for most of every day, Hollis said, except for residences uphill above 10th or 11th Street. Those residents have to get bottled water, and trucks deliver nonpotable water to their stock tanks for livestock to drink.

Hollis said Magdalena received clearance to temporarily hook Magdalena Schools’ well into the system, which will supply water to the village about 12 to 15 hours a day. He said they tried it Monday night and it pumps about 50 gallons a minute into the system.

“They were finishing with the chlorinator as I was there this morning,” Hollis said. “It should be completed by now.”

Another well, Spears Well, which was a supplemental well for the village that fell into disrepair some years ago, was expected to come online Wednesday, Hollis said. He said with both the school well and Spears Well, there is a chance the village will have enough water to get by for now.

County manager Delilah Walsh told commissioners the county will probably need to pull more money from its general fund reserves to pay county staff overtime, for gas to ship water to Magdalena and other various related expenses.

“We are going to have to come for a budget adjustment when this is over,” Walsh said.

Hollis said the secretary of the state Environment Department made an emergency declaration to allocate some funding to mitigate Magdalena’s well crisis. However, he said there will be no money available to pay for work the county did before the declaration, so the county will have to cover that.

He thought by Wednesday, when the supplemental well is running again, the village would have enough water “to survive,” although not so much that residents will be able to, for instance, wash cars.

District 5 Commissioner Juan Gutierrez thanked Hollis and other county staff, including the road department, for their help with Magdalena’s water crisis. Gutierrez, who lives in Magdalena, said his household has water until into the evening hours.

Hollis noted the process has been difficult since Magdalena’s emergency responders have not come down for training to become familiar with ICS, or the incident command system. He expressed hope that those emergency responders will now see how important ICS is.

ICS, as defined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency website, is a standardized, on-scene management structure that allows for several agencies to work together with a common organizational structure. It is used at all levels of government and is applicable across disciplines, such as police, firefighters, military and more.

District 4 Commissioner Daniel Monette asked what could be done if a fire broke out in Magdalena at this time. Hollis said the Hop Canyon Volunteer Fire Department is on standby for such a contingency, and the department has a 36,000-gallon storage tank, plus three tankers that carry 1,000 to 4,000 gallons of water. He said they also have permission to use Hop Canyon VFD’s water for the village’s water needs, although they will not allow the tank to go below 25,000 just in case a fire does break out. The Hop Canyon water is also nonpotable and would not be used for drinking water. He added the Very Large Array also has water they can use in case of a fire.

Hollis said the first thing emergency workers did was set up a fire protection plan for the village.
“We’ve got pretty good (fire) protection up there,” Hollis said.

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