JAL — City Manager Matt White said he’s expecting a noncompliance letter from state regulators regarding Jal’s sewage treatment plant.
With an estimated 5,000-6,000 people crowded onto an infrastructure initially supporting just over 2,000 residents, the town of Jal both rejoices and bemoans the current oil and gas boom.
Test wells surrounding the city’s sewage treatment plant and lagoons have been yielding higher nitrates than allowed by regulations. White said the problems seem to have been getting worse in the last five years.
The New Mexico Environment Department recently notified White by email a noncompliance letter will be issued in five to six weeks.
“We actually have a corrective action and we’ve already started it,” White said. “We have an engineer designing what we need. Hopefully, in the next 30 days we’ll have a couple of steps taken, then we’ll see what the next step is. We’re going to do it.”
The corrective action plan was prepared over a year ago, before either White or the current Mayor Steve Aldridge took office, White said, but had not been implemented until recently.
“We’re going to fix it,” Aldridge said. “This is an issue not only throughout the state, but throughout the West, and back East. It’s an issue we’re facing head on.”
Without estimating actual costs to the city, he acknowledged they likely will be high.
“I think the funding sources are out there, if we do need assistance,” Aldridge said. “We may be able to get a grant with matching money. We’d like to avoid going into debt. We’ve done a great job paying down some debt recently.”
White had noted the ultimate solution will be construction of a new sewage plant, to the tune of millions of dollars, but immediate actions will involve improving the current plant.
The town has been enjoying increased income from gross receipts taxes, largely attributed to an oil and gas boom that has significantly increased population density from the 2,047 reported in the 2010 census.
“If you look at 600 people in one man camp, a new man camp with 640 people going in, another 140 rooms in trailers, and 2,000 campers,” White said, “you just add all those numbers up, 5-6,000 people.”
Aldridge interjected, “Add to that the good possibility of that mine going in.”
In January, PolyNatura announced it has entered into an agreement with the Nitron Group, LLC, for the supply of multintrient polyhalite products (a form of potash). Under the agreement, Nitron will purchase 75 percent of PolyNatura’s production (1.5 million tons annually at peak production) over a five-year period commencing from first production from a mine west of Jal.
“Another 600 jobs out there,” White said. “Where are those people going to live?”
Promising to approach all the issues and unknowns with a proactive atti tude, Aldridge concluded, “We’ll approach this head on.”
Curtis C. Wynne may be contacted at .