Editor's Note: Thanks to Daniel B. Stephens and Associates Inc. for allow the Beat to post the meeting minutes.
A meeting to discuss the Silver City Comprehensive Water Conservation Planning process was held on September 24, 2012 at the City Annex upstairs conference room in Silver City. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss the project scope, goals and objectives, stakeholder group makeup, public outreach efforts, and existing and potential conservation measures. The next project meeting will be held in November.
Welcome and Introductions
The Town of Silver City received a grant from the New Mexico Finance Authority (NMFA) to prepare a water conservation plan and, through a request for proposals process, selected Daniel B. Stephens & Associates, Inc. as the consultant supporting the Town with this project. Denise Smith is the project contact for the Town of Silver City, and Amy Ewing and Joanne Hilton are the consultants. This was the first project meeting, and it began with self- introductions by each attendee.
The overall project schedule calls for the comprehensive water conservation plan to be completed by June 2013. The project scope was discussed, and a summary of the scope was provided as a handout included in the meeting materials. One of the project tasks involves completing a water audit using Town production and billing data. A separate handout that documents the water audit process was provided and briefly summarized.
Goals and Objectives
The project’s goals and objectives will be developed as part of the water conservation planning process and will include reducing water use. Data will be reviewed as part of the process and the goals that are developed will be realistic. The project scope calls for coming up with an educational strategy for water conservation.
A comment was made that the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding process asks whether communities have water conservation and drought mitigation plans. The project scope does not call for a full drought mitigation plan, but separate processes that are looking at that issue will be reviewed and referenced in the conservation plan.
Reduction of nonpoint source pollution was suggested as one goal to couple with water conservation.
There was a question regarding how the water associations will be involved in the conservation planning process and whether the same measures as for in-town residents would apply to them. The water conservation measures that are identified as part of the planning process will be
￼￼￼voluntary for all residents, and while separate audits will not be completed for the water districts, the Town encourages their participation in the process.
There was a suggestion that the planning process include development of a Silver City-specific educational brochure or fact sheet pertaining to Silver City water conservation that could be provided to the public and/or included with Town funding applications.
Leak detection and repair (minimizing water loss) was seen as a priority. The utility coordinates two-week-long leak detection projects each year and often sends staff out looking for leaks. There was a comment that the Town system has a lot of unbilled water due to leakage and a suggestion that the Town collaborate with the four water associations to see if there are opportunities for reducing leakage.
There was a question regarding whether the conservation plan is part of the regional Preliminary Engineering Report (PER) that is currently being developed for the region using Colonias Infrastructure Funding from NMFA. The two projects are separate. The regional PER will look at supplying water to Hurley and at regional water storage. The Hurley community contract with the mine as the water provider is expiring, so a regional water system is being considered.
Communities would own and operate their own systems, and the regional system would provide a backup source of supply. A test well near the Grant County airport has been completed, and the PER is needed to move the project forward. The grant funds have been awarded but haven’t been distributed yet, due to issues at NMFA.
One participant commented that conservation reduces the impact on the sewer system, which would allow for growth without enlarging the system (although conservation also impacts return flow).
Silver City is applying to the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer (OSE) for return flow credit and has completed hydrology studies to support the application (discharge from the wastewater treatment plant has created a mound of groundwater resulting from recharge).
There was a question regarding whether the conservation plan will identify funding sources for implementation. Recommendations for potential funding will be included in the plan.
Stakeholder Group and Public Outreach
The group was asked to provide input on other stakeholders who should be included in the water conservation planning process and for suggestions regarding how to inform the public about water conservation. The following suggestions were made:
• Post information from the planning process on the Town website
• Continue to list on the Gila Community Forum
• Post information on the Grant County website
• Send information about conservation as water bill inserts
There was a suggestion that U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development and Natural Resources Conservation Service contacts be added to the stakeholder list.
￼￼￼A question regarding the geographic scope of the project was raised. The scope of project is defined in the NMFA grant award and is focused on Silver City and the four water associations that purchase water from the Town. Other communities would be welcome to participate in the planning process, but the data analysis will be limited to the Town.
Water Conservation Options
The group was asked to provide input regarding existing conservation practices (i.e., measures that are effective and those that need improvement) and to provide any input on potential measures of particular interest.
Robert Esqueda outlined existing Silver City conservation measures:
• The Town calibrates its production well meters annually and conducts a system-wide leak detection survey twice a year. If there is a meter reading that indicates a leak, the town will investigate the leak and repair it as needed. Staff actively looks for leaks when they are around town, and the utility actively replaces old customer meters. Silver City also does meter testing and tracks non-revenue water.
• The Town has an inverted rate structure (residents pay more as their demand increases).
• The Town provides wastewater reuse for irrigation of the golf course. Demand exceeds the available reuse supply during the summer, so there is no surplus reuse water available for expanding reuse in the summer. In winter they do have discharge.
• The Town has a water waste ordinance and uses Code enforcement to address water waste when water is seen running down the street.
• The grass at the Town’s softball fields was recently replaced with artificial turf, and this may be a possibility for additional areas.
The Arenas Valley water system recently changed to a radio read meter system. The Town is considering doing this, and wants automatic meter reading to be evaluated as part of the conservation plan. With a radio read program, accuracy is increased, and you can tell how much water was used by day and hour for each account (giving the water system the ability to run water use profiles on customers in the event a question arises). This could help to identify slow leaks by seeing what is happening when no one is home or during the night. This also eliminates estimation when meters are hard to read, as well as transcription errors. In Arenas Valley, the water operator did the meter installations, so the software was their primary expense.
In Pinos Altos, the water system calls people when their usage is high. Rosedale changes customer meters every million gallons to minimize meter error and has a tiered rate structure with high costs for large usage.
Water harvesting was discussed as a conservation measure, and some rainwater and stormwater harvesting projects have been implemented in Silver City. A New Mexico Watershed Forum workshop is planned in Silver City for October 4 and 5, 2012, and will include a tour and summary of these projects. There was a comment that it would be nice for the conservation plan to summarize what water harvesting is allowed at home and to include information on graywater reuse (in addition to posting this information on the Town’s website).
Another participant commented that there should be some engineering standard for these projects and that it is important that any water harvesting not cause an increase in mosquitos. The water utility is most interested in focusing on water conservation measures that they can implement using their own staff (e.g., fixing leaks, calibrating and/or replacing meters).
Education and demonstration projects are seen as important for encouraging public participation.
The Town of Silver City Office of Sustainability plans to set up a demonstration project when they move into their new office space at the Diamond Shamrock building. Rainwater harvesting is also planned for The Volunteer Center. The Office of Sustainability completed an Energy sense program where they looked at low flow shower heads, aerators, light bulbs, etc. The project included installation of low flow shower heads in about 300 homes.
There was a comment about the differing regulations in the two watersheds (Gila and Mimbres).
Outdoor water harvesting is limited in the Gila watershed due to a water rights limitation: rain barrels and cisterns cannot be filled in the Gila Basin (although downspout discharge can be routed into earthen basins) without an outdoor water right. Some water harvesting is done in the Mimbres Basin on a volunteer basis. Public participation is seen as the key to water harvesting type programs.
The possibility of offering indoor rebate programs for installing water use efficient fixtures was discussed. With the exception of Tyrone and Rosedale, a lot of septic systems are used to treat water association wastewater (which is therefore not sent to the Town for treatment), so indoor conservation measures implemented in these residences will not reduce demands on the Town’s sewer system.
The schools are very large water users. They maintain the Sports Complex, but do not pay the water bill, and thus do not have an incentive to conserve water (the disconnect between maintenance and fiscal responsibility encourages overwatering). The schools, hospital, Town, college, and courthouse are large water users, and so there may be opportunities for targeted conservation measures for these users.
There was concern that conservation leads to a decrease in revenue, and this will need to be balanced as a part of the plan.
The group indicated that the Town may attract a different group of stakeholders if meetings are held in the evenings, but that there may be a lack of participation by certain stakeholders in the evenings. The group that attended this first meeting said that their schedules are generally flexible, but agreed that afternoons are good for meetings. Each of the meetings will be announced to the full stakeholder group in advance, and informational flyers will be posted around Town.