A panel with oversight authority of the city of Española’s water system has approved a plan to purchase a $113,000 nitrate filtration system to be installed on a city-owned well, with further commitments to buy a second system that would remove fluoride from a second well.
Tony Granger, a sales engineer for Albuquerque-based Hennesy Mechanical Sales, LLC, signed on March 26 a $113,000 quote for a nitrate filtration system to be installed at Well #7, which is in Ranchitos Park.
The Española Public Works Committee met on April 10 to review the quote.
Mayor Pro Tem Peggy Martinez asked Public Works Director Steven Trujillo whether the city government’s budget covers the $113,000 price tag on the nitrate filtration system.
Trujillo said he discussed the price with Finance Director Jessica Ortiz, who told him that it is covered by the Fiscal Year 2018-2019 budget, which ends on June 30.
The water system’s customers pay into the Water Enterprise Fund, which will fund the project, he said.
“This is a sole-source ma’am, and I have the letter,” he said.
Trujillo was referring to an April 3 letter that states Pittsburgh, Pa.-based De Nora Water Technologies is the only supplier of the system in New Mexico..
He said it was not a “state contract” which means the procurement is not being handled by Cooperative Educational Services.
“This is very, very important so that we never have to experience anything like what we experienced recently,” Martinez said.
City residents did not learn about the high level of nitrates in the city water system until three months after a state employee collected a sample that contained 10.8 milligrams of nitrates per liter of water, which is above the 10 milligram maximum contaminant level set by the Safe Water Drinking Act and enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the New Mexico Environment Department.
“Water is the most important resource that this community has,” Martinez said. “It’s our responsibility as a council, and a governing body, to protect it and make it as healthy and safe for our constituents as we can possibly do. This is a worthwhile investment.”
Once the city government purchases the nitrate removal system, Granger said, someone will have to install it.
Then De Nora will assess the new system to make sure that it is properly installed before it can begin operating.
De Nora previously built a filtration system at Well #1, located on 31-mile Road. That system removes arsenic from the city’s water.
The new filtration system will apply to the Ranchitos well, which is high in nitrates, and will filter that water before it is mixed with water from the El Llano well, which produces water that is high in fluoride.
Trujillo told Councilor John Ricci that the nitrate filtration system will need its own foundation and security building. That infrastructure will be an additional expense beyond the $113,000 filtration system, Trujillo said.
Those additional costs, along with a second removal system specifically for fluoride, will be brought before the Public Works Committee again and then the city council for final approval he said.
He referenced a scope of work for those additional costs during the meeting.
“I don’t see it costing more than this system,” Trujillo said. “Just a few modifications to the existing wells will have to be done.”
He did not have a price for the second filter system during the April 10 meeting.
“We are going to be trying to purchase two systems,” he said. “The other system is fluoride removal. So we’ll have one at each well and we’ll still blend them together into the El Llano tank.”
Ricci asked Trujillo to clarify that the city water system will have a different filter at each well.
“Yes,” Trujillo said. “It’ll treat them at the entry points of the wells before it actually mixes into the tank.”
As the Public Works Department is working to secure the funding for the nitrate removal system staff are collecting more samples of the water to ensure they purchase the correct filter, he said.
Ordering the nitrate removal system will take weeks or even months, he said. That means the fluoride removal system will have to be approved this summer and paid for under next Fiscal Year’s budget.
“We don’t know what the cost is going to be on the fluoride system because we need a little bit tighter water quality samples to be done on it, so we can clarify where the fluorides are exiting,” Granger said. “We gotta be sure, before we treat just the fluoride, what other constituents are within the water, that might affect the fluoride treatment.”
City Manager David Valdez told the Committee that the city government cannot invest $113,000 without knowing next year’s budget and the following year.
“They’re still going to be some critical Investments that this council is going to have to make,” he said.
“We’re going to provide you with the information through procurement and finance to give you that knowledge to know that yes, you are safe and making these decisions,” he said. “This is an investment that you’re making, and we can’t step away from it.”
The purchase almost reaches the level of an emergency, Valdez said. However, city officials are confirming there is money available to install the filters and train city workers to use them properly.
Christopher Marquez is now the water operations supervisor for the city’s water system, Trujillo told the Committee.
“You’ve got a great staff out there,” Granger said. “They care.”
The water is being tested regularly, Marquez said. The state is testing for nitrates each quarter, he said, and the city is testing for bacteria each month.
He said state officials have been notified that Trujillo is no longer the point of contact for the water system.
“Yes, I have made that transition, about a month or so ago,” Marquez said. “I do have communication with the Drinking Water Bureau.”
Martinez referred to the communication between the city and the state as a “debacle,” and said she was concerned about there only being a single point of contact for the city water system.
“If that person happened to not be with the city anymore, or happened to change emails, or happened to not, uh, be here that week, or whatever, that there could be a delay in us really being able to react because we’re unaware that there’s only one point of contact,” she said. “So I think it’s important that we try to hustle a secondary point of contact. Maybe Steven Trujillo again, or the city manager, or both.”
At the time of the lost communication, former city manager Kelly Duran had resigned as city manager the same week, Martinez said, and former public works director Perry Vigil had retired a month-and-a-half prior.
“That could have, maybe, had something to do with it,” she said. “I don’t know.”
Once the state or the laboratory knows something, Martinez said, city officials need to be careful about how they disseminate that information, because if they don’t get the communication, it is possible that people will continue to drink unsafe water.