LAS VEGAS, NM – A New Mexico town is now less than three weeks away from being out of fresh water supply for its residents, according to reports.
The crisis has been caused at least in part by the Calf Canyon-Hermits Peak Fire depositing ash and debris in the Gallinas River, which is the main source of water supply for the city. The fire burned in the spring of this year and consumed about 340,000 acres- the most in the state’s history.
After the fire, an unusually heavy rain season in the region carried the ash into the river, filling both the city’s reservoirs with an amount of cancer-causing contamination that its filtration system can’t handle.
On July 30, Zero Hedge reported that there were only 50 days’ supply left and that experts had “no immediate solution” to the problem, and yet they’re still in the same position they were over a month ago.
In a recent meeting with local residents, Utilities Director Maria Gilvarry said, “We need to get the carbon out of the water before we add disinfection.” Gilvarry discussed that normally, the city’s water treatment facility would cleanse the water with chlorine. However, when carbon (from the ash) reacts with high levels of chlorine, the results can be carcinogenic.
Experts will be testing a nearby lake to see if it has lower ash levels, which can take a few days. If the water is drinkable, they will be able to use that as a source for at least two months, Gilvarry said. That two months will give the city time to “install upgraded treatment systems capable of processing the sediment-heavy water.”
It’s unclear why this process wasn’t started over a month ago when the city foresaw the problem.
“Our fingers are crossed on that,” Mayor Louie Trujillo said. “[Testing] will determine the quality of water we’re going to be sending to one of our reservoirs.
“After the biggest fire in the state’s history, we had the best monsoon season in probably 14 years. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to use any of that water that was coming down our river because it was too heavily polluted for the treatment facility that we currently have.”
Army Corps Captain Robert Zebrowski said that the US Army Corps of Engineers installed debris catchment nets called wattles, which are essentially nets made from mesh that are filled with hay. This process slowed contamination and caught the heavier slush and ash, but the smaller particles are the bigger issues. “There’s no way to stop all ash from getting in everywhere,” he said.
If the lake proves to be unsafe to consume, the city would have to implement a boil-water order. The State of New Mexico has already declared a state of emergency and put the city on rations, which would have to increase should the lake water be insufficiently clean for consumption.
Las Vegas, New Mexico, is a 13,000-person city in San Miguel County. At this time, there’s no timeline for how long it would take the Gallinas River to naturally cleanse itself of the harmful additives brought in by the massive historic fire and rain season.
Gilvarry said that regardless of the outcome with the issue of a secondary water source for Las Vegas, there will be some level of contaminant in the water for at least a decade due to the size of the fire.