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Artesia leaders examining low bulk water rates

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Jeff Tucker Photo A 32-mile, $58,250,000 road project on U.S. Route 82 beginning near the Navajo Refining Co. has Artesia leaders questioning their rates for bulk water sales.

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A $58 million road project just east of Artesia has city leaders questioning their prices for bulk water sales.

The city has an account to sell water to Fisher Sand & Gravel at a bulk rate of $2.50 per thousand gallons for a 32-mile, $58,250,000 road project on U.S. Route 82 being performed by the New Mexico Department of Transportation, infrastructure director Byron Landfair told the City Council last week.

Bulk water rates typically are $17 or $18 per thousand gallons, Landfair said.

“It a nutshell, this is basically industrial water that we sell mainly to construction companies for the purpose of construction,” Landfair said. “It came to our attention about the middle of last week, that the highway project that’s just now currently going on on the east edge of town set up an account for the use of construction water for that project. Doing a little digging around, I got notified by a couple of councilors, we’re a little cheap on our construction water.”

Landfair said the city’s water is a resource for the community and the City Council needs to decide the parameters of selling it. He said two proposals are for the city to prohibit the sale of water outside city limits and/or raise the price to $20 per thousand gallons.

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City Councilor Raul Rodriguez said he was asked why the city was selling water for use outside city limits, and competing with private businesses that sell water.

“We’ve always had a philosophy, within ourselves, that we don’t want to compete, that the city doesn’t have a program or something to compete with private enterprise in the city,” Rodriguez said. “We used to deal with that a lot in recreation stuff.”

Mayor Phillip Burch said the city’s low bulk water rates are a benefit for economic development within city limits. He said most water sales within the city are a result of city projects, when the Water Department sells water to the city.

“Consequently, that’s why the rate is so low,” Burch said.

City Councilor Terry Hill said raising the bulk water rates could bolster the city’s budget, while encouraging water conservation.

Landfair said the City Council needs to decide if the Water Department should sell water outside city limits.

“My concern, with saying let’s raise it to $20, is while we’re competitive on that scale, we know the next project that we have, our price is going to go up, simply because we’re charging ourselves more for the water,” Burch said. “I understand the aspect of it of saying let’s not compete with local industry. I kind of prefer to come at it from a different way and say the water system that we built in the city of Artesia was built by the residents and taxpayers of Artesia, and it’s not in their best interests to sell this water outside of this county, or outside the city limits. It is for the use and betterment of the community.”

The City Council is scheduled to revisit the city’s bulk water rate at its Sept. 12 meeting.

Editor Jeff Tucker can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 303, or at editor@rdrnews.com.