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Homeowners wanting to drill water wells may get help from USDA program

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Chaves County homeowners needing financial assistance to drill water wells on their property might be able to get help from a program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Water Well Trust, a national nonprofit based in North Carolina, has received a grant from USDA’s Household Water Well Systems program, which will be matched with funds from the Water Systems Council, to provide eligible New Mexico homeowners with loans of up to $11,000 to drill wells on their property.

The loans come with interest rates of 1 percent and terms as long as 20 years.

Nine southern counties in New Mexico, including Chaves County, are eligible for the loans because more than 20 percent of their population live below the poverty line. The estimated poverty rate of Chaves County in 2015 was 21.9 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Statewide the poverty rate is 21 percent.

About $275,000 is available from the government grant and matching funds, which should fund about 25 wells, said a trust manager and a member of its board of directors.

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“It is estimated that 1,963 housing units do not have access to clean water in New Mexico,” said Margaret Martens, program director with the Water Wells Trust.

Martens said the nonprofit previously received three other USDA grants for projects in other states and was urged by USDA officials to consider this state.

“I was told that USDA receives a lot of requests for help from New Mexico and Arizona,” she said.

The loan program gives priority to people with health or safety needs or those living in colonias, undeveloped areas that typically lack infrastructure and adequate housing structures. According to information from the trust, there are 130 colonias in New Mexico. That includes an area near Lake Arthur, according to the University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

Outside of the priority candidates, anyone who owns and lives in a home and has combined occupant income below $52,300 annually can apply. Eligibility criteria are listed in the application found on the group’s website, waterwelltrust.org.

“Engineered water lines are astronomically expensive, so we are working to provide an affordable alternative,” said Robin Irwin, a member of the trust’s board of directors and executive secretary of the New Mexico Ground Water Association. Irwin also works as a manager for a drilling company.

“The projects we have done, there are people who have gone without access to water for years,” she said. “Some haven’t had access to established water lines or something happened to their wells. Others had their water sources contaminated and have had to transport in their own water supplies. If they are applying for a loan, they are in need.”

The trust is working with the New Mexico Groundwater Association, based in the town of Bernalillo, and the offices of U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-Albuquerque) to notify people who might be interested in a loan.

The trust has operated since 2010. A prior USDA-funded project in Georgia drilled 27 wells, providing water to 65 homeowners. The organization also has grants for counties in New York, South Carolina, Arkansas and Oklahoma, according to its website.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.