By Jack King
The City Commission postponed discussion of funding mechanisms for the Southwest Cheese plant Thursday, saying plant officials and the city need more time to complete discussion on water issues.
Chase Gentry, executive director of the Clovis Industrial Development Corporation, told the commission he, city officials, Southwest Cheese plant officials and officials of New Mexico-American Water Co. are still trying to finalize plans of wastewater costs, water rights and water provision for the plant.
City Manager Ray Mondragon said one item in the discussion is whether the company should build an autonomous plant to treat water produced in the cheese-making process or whether it should pretreat the water, then let the bulk of the process be done in the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
City officials have said that if Clovis does the treatment it will have to enlarge its wastewater treatment system, spending additional money.
Assistant City Manager Joe Thomas said this week Southwest Cheese will generate about 1.2 million gallons a day of water when it reaches full capacity.
City Public Works Director Harry Wang said if the city treats the plant’s water it will have to add a $6 million addition to its current system.
Members of the city’s Public Works Committee who visited Leprino Foods’ Roswell cheese plant Tuesday said they were encouraged by the trip. Leprino treats its own wastewater and the Clovis visitors said they felt it does a good job.
“Leprino’s wastewater treatment system is as good or better than most municipal systems,” Wang said.
But some of the visitors said the trip raised questions, as well.
City Commissioner Gloria Wicker said the treated water from that plant is deposited on Leprino-owned farms nearby, where the company grows alfalfa and corn.
“One thing we learned is that the plant’s water has a terrific amount of salt in it that must be diluted. You can’t just put the pure wastewater from the plant on a field. It has to be diluted by a factor of three.
“One idea is that we could use our treated wastewater, which we put on fields now, to dilute Southwest’s wastewater. It would be a shame to use pure drinking water to dilute the plant’s water,” she said.
City Commissioner Isidro Garcia said he learned there are differences between operating a “normal” wastewater treatment plant and operating one treating the wastewater from a cheese plant.
“There’s quite a bit of difference because of the whey,” he said.
He added that the cost of building Leprino’s plant was between $4 million and $6 million.
Roswell’s assistant city manager, Siri Cooper, said Roswell has had no negative experiences “whatsoever” with wastewater coming from Leprino Foods. She said she is not aware that Chaves County has had any problems either.