School to fight for water rights

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ Staff Writer

Clovis Municipal Schools and the city of Clovis are mounting a joint defense against a water-rate hike proposed by the New Mexico-American Water Co.

Their rates would increase by 30 percent under the proposal, according to New Mexico-American officials.

City and school officials said they will file a motion with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission to intervene on their behalf in the form of a reduction in the proposed increase. They will share the cost of legal and expert witness fees, officials said.

“We have no guarantee it will do any good, but what we do know if we don’t ask (for a discount), we won’t get it,” said Clovis Municipal Schools Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm, just moments before the Clovis Municipal School Board authorized the joint intervention during a Tuesday school board meeting.

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, a quasi-judicial body, must approve the rate increases before they are enacted.

New Mexico-American filed a petition with the Commission in May to increase water rates. The company splits rates into three categories: Residential, commercial and other public authorities. New Mexico schools and cities fall into the third category and, in the past, have been granted water rate discounts.

The water rates of more than 14,000 Clovis residents will climb by an average of 25 percent if the rate increase request is approved. Commercial rates would increase by 39 percent for high volume users.

The city of Clovis and Clovis Municipal Schools have been granted discounts on New Mexico-American water rate increase proposals in 1989, 1998 and 2003, according to attorney David Richards, who provides local legal counsel for the city and schools.

Richards said expert witness fees could reach $20,000 based estimates he had been given.

Although water rates fluctuate, the school district spends roughly $150,000 annually to meet its water needs, CMS Director of Finance Michael Erwin said. Most of the water is used for sprinkler systems to maintain athletic fields, he said. The city spends roughly the same amount for water, according to city officials.

New-Mexico American officials have said the proposed increases are necessary to offset the cost of infrastructure projects and the purchase of irrigation wells. Those steps were made to increase the water supply in the region as the water levels in the Ogalalla Aquifer decline, New Mexico-American officials have said.

The Commission should consider the Clovis water rate case in early October in Santa Fe, and the increases could come as early as April 2007 if approved, according to Commission officials.