Residents ask questions on proposed rate hike

By Gabriel Monte: CNJ Staff Writer

Eric Wuest said he’s resigned that water rates will go up. He said
he attended a public meeting put together by New Mexico American Water
to learn about what he can do to conserve water for his car wash
operation.

But Wuest asked New Mexico American Water officials Monday if there
was anything they could do to address conservation among the
agricultural community who use about 95 percent of the water from the
Ogallala Aquifer.

Officials told Wuest and the other dozen residents at a public
meeting there was nothing they can do to address water conservation
among the agricultural community, but encouraged water conservation
among residents.

“Agriculture is vital to the economic vitality of this community,”
said company Director of Engineering Joe Gross. “What they do to water
is vital to our water supply; I don’t know what steps we can take.”

Water officials coordinated the meeting to discuss with Clovis
residents a proposed 16 percent rate increase request the company filed
in May to the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission. New Mexico
American Water General Manager Kathy Wright said the money generated
from the rate hike will cover the costs of investments made in 2007,
which include converting six agricultural wells for municipal use,
installing a main water line to the Clovis Industrial Park and
increases in the cost of electricity.

Gross said the Ogallala aquifer, which supplies the city’s water, is
declining and any new wells the company drills into the aquifer are
temporary solutions. He said the wells are declining at an average of
three feet per year.

He said the company has increased the number of wells in the city
from 26 to 59 wells in nine years but is still producing the same
amount of water.

Gross said about 5 percent of the water is used for residential
purposes while 95 percent is used for agricultural purposes. He said
the company is investigating drilling for brackish water underneath the
Ogallala aquifer and investing in the Ute Water pipeline project.

One resident asked if the company will refund the money from the rate hike if there is an excess.

Tom Broderick, Director, Rates & Regulation, New Mexico American
Water said an excess isn’t likely to happen but even if it does, he
said costs would catch up to the surplus. He said the company is
already planning for a rate increase to cover investment costs in 2009.

A hearing for the rate request is scheduled for Jan. 20. The city of
Clovis and the town of Edgewood have intervened in the case, according
to Wright.