Mag water woes not new

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Officials in the village of Magdalena have scrambled for over a month to secure water for its residents after the Trujillo Well, their sole water supply, ran dry on June 5. Plans have progressed and residents now have water, although strict restrictions remain in place until two wells can be rehabilitated and future plans can be implemented. Even then, there is a good chance that new water conservation measures will be employed to ensure that this crisis is not repeated.

Magdalena’s well issue did not just pop up overnight, and officials did not just begin working to address the concern of water supply when the well went dry.

When village Mayor Sandy Julian took office in 2011, discussion about the need for another well was already occurring. Julian and the village council picked up the torch for pursuing funding for a new well, although at the time, there did not appear to be any immediate threat.

Former Mayor James Wolf, in office from 2004 through 2011, also said that there had been numerous efforts and attempts to improve the village’s water system and to develop an alternative water source for the future. The pump at Trujillo Well was replaced twice during Wolf’s tenure.

Approximately six months prior to the end of Wolf’s second term, the village council approved $50,000 for drilling a new well. William Larang with WFL Engineering of Socorro was hired to oversee the project. He gathered information about the village’s water rights, capacities and needs. Larang produced a report in September 2010, with recommendations to drill a new well adjacent to the Trujillo Well and tie it into the system through the existing well, thus utilizing the chlorination and other infrastructure already in place. He also helped the village apply for drilling permits and water use permits.

“We advertised for drilling, but bids that came in were at least $30,000 to $40,000,” Wolf said. “That was too high for us then.”

Village officials switched their focus to finding funding for a new well, and in the meantime performed other maintenance and upgrades to the system. A new booster pump was purchased for the existing well and a booster storage tank was installed, now called the Steer Tank and primarily supplying water to the Magdalena schools. The village also installed two new lagoons.

“We completed more village projects than had been completed under any mayor before me,” Wolf said. He said that some of those projects have been continued or completed during Mayor Julian’s tenure.

Wolf recalls that the Benjamin Well was shut down because it was leaking water; it also had only one pump, and it was not sufficient. The Spears Well was shut down due to poor water quality and because there was no chlorination equipment on the well.

Meanwhile, the village began searching for funding to drill a new well. They ran into a barrier, though, when seeking grant funds due to some audit issues that developed several years ago.

“The state auditor began requiring that we change auditors every few years,” Wolf said. “We learned that it was hard to get auditors to bid on our small town’s audits.”

Wolf said it took a couple of years to get any auditors to respond to their request for bids. By the time they got an auditor contracted, they were four years behind. They have to have approval from the state auditor for the contracts each year. The auditor who was hired completed two years’ worth of audits before he simply “disappeared.” According to both Wolf and Julian, the village attempted to locate the auditor for some time, and finally learned that he had passed away. The process for finding a new auditor was started over again.

“We sent out 15 letters requesting bids from auditors,” Rita Broaddus, village clerk said. “We could not get any responses. I even made follow-up calls. No one wanted to take on our audits for our little town — not enough money in it, and especially with the back audit issues.”

When Mayor Julian came into office in 2011, the village was still dealing with these audit issues. An application for funding to drill a new well had been submitted for a Community Development Block Grant, but it was denied due to the lack of a current audit. The cycle continued. The village council determined they did not want to take funding from the general fund for this purpose, because they didn’t want to leave the general budget in a short-fall, should the community face some crisis or emergency.

“At the time, our well was in good shape,” Julian said. “We were doing annual maintenance on the well, per regulations, and there had not been any problems. We knew there was a risk, not having a secondary supply. That has been on our agenda since before I came into office.”

Julian said the maintenance schedule is now three to four times per year, with chlorine checks every two to three months. The pump is checked “regularly.”

About a year ago, Julian said there was an issue with the water level and pumping. The village had the pump dropped 10 feet, and that solved the issue. This past June, when the well dried up, they again tried dropping the pump, this time all the way to the bottom of the well, but to no avail — the well was dry.

According to an October 2002 engineer’s report, the village of Magdalena once received its water from a series of springs — Kelly Cook, Hop Canyon and Patterson Canyon springs were named from previous reports referenced. These springs were apparently removed from service in 1964 at the direction of the New Mexico Environment Department. The 2002 report states that from 1960 to 2002, the village water was diverted from a succession of many different wells for supply.

In 1960 and 1961, the village purchased what is referred to in the 2002 engineer’s report as Benjamin No. 1, and drilled the Park Well to a reported depth of 340 feet with a depth to water of 199 feet (reported in 1972). The report states that both wells were depleted — ran dry — by 1964, due to heavy pumping. Benjamin Well No. 2, located a mile west of Magdelena, and just 1,000 feet off of U.S. Highway 60, was drilled in 1964.

The well was reported at that time to pump 130 gallons per minute. However, this reported rate of production was reduced to 80 gpm in 1972. More recently, capacities for this well have been reported as greatly diminished, including 30 gpm in a 1994 report by Dennis Engineering from Socorro, and 40 gpm in a 1998 Engineers Inc. report. The well was apparently taken offline in the early 2000s, because it was leaking and because it’s production was down significantly.

The Spears Well was also drilled and placed into service in 1964, according to the 2002 report. The Spears Well, sometimes referred to as the South Well, had been in continuous use since 1964 and was still in production at the time of the 2002 report. It was taken offline in 2005 or 2006 because it did not meet new state quality standards.

The Trujillo Well was planned in 1974 and drilling was complete in 1975. The well was brought online and became the village’s main water supply that same year. When the project was started in 1974, a series of test wells were drilled to find a new water supply. The first three test wells were of little capacity. The fourth became the Trujillo Well. The well was drilled to a depth of 308 feet, with a reported depth to water of 98.5 feet in 1975.

There are some discrepancies in the reports as to the original rate of production — from 382 gpm to 146 gpm. According to the 2002 engineering report, the 146 gpm rate is likely the last and longest rate in a steady step-test, and the higher rate is likely the average of withdrawals. According to all references, drawdown rates (the rate at which the well is depleted when being pumped), were minimal — from a few inches to two and a half feet. The drawdown rate is currently at about 10 feet.

At the time the Benjamin and the Spears wells were taken offline, the Trujillo Well was pumping a more than adequate supply for the needs at that time. Village officials determined that it would be better to pursue a new back-up well rather than investing the cost of upgrading those wells, given their capacities.

New Information and Plan:

Current engineering reports, from the State Engineer as well as King Engineering, which is currently contracted to help Magdalena’s water issues, indicate that the Benjamin Well is capable of much higher production than was previously reported, using a higher capacity pump and with improvements to other infrastructure. They are now projecting the well will pump 180 gpm when rehabilitation is complete.

When the village ran out of water in early June, and emergency status was granted by the state, the village was told by the state that they must utilize their own financial resources to address the problem first, and then they would be able to apply for funding beyond that for additional needs. At that point, the city approved a transfer of $200,000 from their general fund into their enterprise fund for use in rehabilitating the Benjamin Well and the Trujillo Well, as well as making necessary updates to the Spears Well, as possible.

It is now expected that this funding will cover the costs of the first phase of rehabilitating the Benjamin Well and the basic rehabilitation of the Trujillo Well. The engineer will then be working with state and other agencies to assist Magdalena in getting grant funds to complete the second phase of their plan.

The first phase of this completion is expected to happen by the end of July. Additional infrastructure build-out will occur this fall, after the essential work on both Benjamin and Trujillo wells is complete and water levels are brought back up to normal range.