By Jack King: CNJ Staff Writer
The New Mexico Environment Department has agreed to let Southwest Cheese and the city of Clovis produce wastewater that would be higher in dissolved solids than it normally allows, department spokesman Jon Goldstein said Friday.
But the Environment Department wants two studies done to ensure the increased amount of dissolved solids would not harm farmland, Goldstein said.
“Total dissolved solids are salts primarily and since the water is being applied to farm land, we want to know about its potential effect on crops and the soil,” he said.
Goldstein said one soil study would be a “baseline” study, to determine the current condition of soil on which the water would be deposited. A later study would determine if the higher concentration of solids was harming the soil, he said.
The request for studies will not hold up construction on the cheese plant, he added.
Jackie Roberts, who, under a contract with the city of Clovis, applies the treatment plant water to his farmland, said he asked the city and the Environment Department to find out what the salt content of the water would be.
“I had a friend in Amarillo who was getting water from the city for his turf farm. He found he couldn’t use it because the salt concentration will sterilize your soil,” Roberts said.
Southwest Cheese President and CEO Maurice Keane said Thursday the company has offered to pay for the studies.
“We want to do everything we can to have a positive environmental impact,” he said.
Clovis Public Works Director Harry Wang said Wednesday once water from the cheese plant is blended with city water, wastewater coming out of the city’s wastewater treatment plant could contain 1,212 milligrams per liter of total dissolved solids, while the Environment Department’s limit is 1,000 milligrams per liter.
Wang said the estimate of higher TDS concentration in the water came about because a consultant designing the cheese plant’s wastewater system overestimated the amount of water coming from the city into the plant. With less water coming into the plant, there would be less water to dilute the solids and their concentration would be higher, he said.
He said the Environment Department granted the exception, because the 1,000 milligrams per liter limit is actually for groundwater and the plant’s wastewater is applied on the surface.
“What’s put on the ground has no TDS limit, but it has the potential to affect groundwater,” he said.
Goldstein said, in time, the problem could be eliminated, because as Clovis grows, more wastewater will come into its plant to dilute the cheese plant’s water.