NM: Chimayó wells running dry

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Chimayó meeting centers on water woes

By MARISSA STONE/The New Mexican July 10, 2001 CHIMAYO - Some Chimayó residents said Monday their wells are running dry, while others said the water they get is undrinkable.

More than 20 wells in the area have run dry recently, said Ilean Martinez, president of the Greater Chimayó Planning Group. She was the main speaker at a Monday night gathering of about 100 residents at the Benny J. Chavez Community Center. The meeting was held to discuss water problems in the community, which straddles the boundary between Santa Fe and Rio Arriba counties.

The problem of dry wells or wells that produce water that smells like rotten eggs and tastes bad are occurring throughout Chimayó, not in just one area, said Martinez.

The group intends to incorporate as the Greater Chimayó Mutual Domestic Water Consumers Association so it will be eligible to receive money from state, federal and private sources.

Sitting at a long table with Martinez were several state legislators - Rep. Ben Lujan, D-Nambé, Rep. Nick Salazar, D-San Juan Pueblo, and state Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa - as well as Rio Arriba County commissioners, water experts and members of various water agencies.

Lujan, the House majority leader, told the residents that they would be well represented in the legislature. "Don't give up," he said.

"Something has to be done," said Chimayó resident Connie Vigil, "We can't be drinking this water."

Creating a community water system could cost millions of dollars and take years to complete.

Salazar said he would ask the Legislature to fund much of the project because Rio Arriba County's per capita income is low, about $17,000.

Dionne Shirley, a training specialist for the New Mexico Rural Water Association, said people would have to pay $25 initially to join the water association.

Once the association is in place, she said, residents might have to pay $350 to hook up a meter to their property and $500 to help buy water rights.

Martinez said she and her husband began experiencing trouble with their water supply in January. At first they thought they had a leak. However, they later learned their well was running dry. They dug a new well, but found that the water tastes bad. They now buy containers of drinking water at stores.

Sue Farrington, who owns La Posada de Chimayó bed-and-breakfast inn, said she has to haul water from Española and asks her patrons to conserve water.

Residents of eight homes near El Rincón in Chimayó draw water from the Cañada Ancha ditch through cisterns, but still need more water, said Ted Trujillo, an attorney offering his services to the group for free.

Drought has caused shortages in some wells that draw on shallow aquifers that depend on recharge from snow melt and rainfall, geologist John Gillentine of the New Mexico Environment Department's Drinking Water Bureau said. Also, he said, people use more water during hot summer weather.

The problem worsens, Gillentine said, as the area's population increases.

Bad-tasting water is caused by naturally-occurring components in water, including carbon-dioxide gas which makes the water fizz, Gillentine said. "I took a drink of it and it wasn't exactly pleasant."

Gillentine said some Chimayó water was recently tested for nitrate, sulfate, iron and fluoride. Only a few samples exceeded the maximum level allowed for such contaminants, he said.

"That's good news in terms of their quality," he said. "Some of the water up there is quite good, it's just a matter of finding enough."

Whatever the town's water problems may be, Shirley said, state and federal legislators "look on Chimayó with a lot of interest because it is a historic community and it gets a lot of publicity."


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), July 10, 2001

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