JAL — Two years into an ongoing moratorium on new RV parks, the Jal City Council on Monday will consider again extending the prohibition for another six months.
In the heart of the Delaware Basin portion of the Permian Basin, the small community of about 2,000-3,000 permanent residents hosts almost as many temporary residents who work in the oilfield.
“The reason (the moratorium) keeps extending is we’re working on getting our wastewater plant back in compliance,” explained City Manager Matt White. “With all the RVs in town, we have a tendency to kind of get it out of compliance. We can keep it pretty close and we’re working with the state on that. They’re aware of that. But we’re afraid if we had a bunch more RVs, we could get it out of compliance.”
Test wells surrounding the city’s sewage treatment plant and lagoons yielded higher nitrates than allowed by regulations. The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) initially threatened action against the city for the violations, but White said the state has worked with the city to ensure compliance.
In the summer of 2019, the council decided the chemicals used in RV wastewater system, responsible for increased nitrates and total dissolved solids in the wastewater treatment plant’s effluent, warranted calling a halt to new RV parks.
Existing parks were allowed to remain in business. Then, with the oilfield slump of 2020, many of the RVs in those existing parks began to disappear.
“Right now, we have probably 25-30% of the RV lots empty, so we really don’t need a lot of more spaces in town,” White said Friday. “Are we going to extend (the moratorium)? I don’t know. That will depend on what the council wants to do.”
The oilfield has returned to nearly pre-pandemic status, actually setting new production records. Meanwhile, the city’s planned new wastewater treatment plant remains on the drawing board and unfunded as yet.
“The chemicals (used in RVs) tend to throw the nitrates all over the place out of compliance,” White said. “We have a lagoon system that works with a digestion system and when you get all those chemicals in there it starts messing that up.”
The city manager noted another extension of the moratorium on new RV parks likely will have little effect.
“We haven’t had a lot of applications to build them, so I’m not sure it’s going to make a lot of difference to us anyway,” White said.
Progress on a new wastewater treatment plant is slow, but in motion.
“That’s looking real good. We had the PER (preliminary engineering report) done,” White said. “We’ve applied to the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) for funding. We feel pretty comfortable about getting that funding.”
How the funding will come remains in the air, however.
“The issue is how much is going to be a loan and how much is going to be a grant,” White said. “We’re really hoping we’ll get a large grant compared to the loan because, depending on how much the loan is, we’re going to have to go up on wastewater fees.
“We’re trying to keep (fees) to a minimum because I know it will affect everybody, especially people on fixed incomes,” White continued. “But it’s got to be done because the plant’s 50 or 60 years old and it’s out of compliance. The state NMED has been great working with us on that.”
Jal Mayor Stephen Aldridge has called the current plant “antiquated and inadequate.”
The total cost of a new or renovated plant also remains undetermined, with the city manager previously offering estimates from at least $5 million for renovation to $18 million for a new plant.
White eyed a schedule of more than two years.
“The PER’s taken over a year,” the city manager said. “Once we get the funding lined up, engineering is going to take another year and construction will be another year beyond that, so before we get a new plant we’re probably looking at two or two-and-a-half years. We just have to keep making the one we have now work.”
That could mean continued extensions of a moratorium on new RV parks.