ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The state environment department said Thursday it is loaning the city of Portales $27 million to upgrade its wastewater system as part of an effort by Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration to help communities improve aging water infrastructure.
It’s one of the largest loans the department has made and highlights the multimillion-dollar need for new investment in drinking water and sewer systems that have been taxed by issues such as drought, lack of maintenance and growing populations.
Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn acknowledged that more communities have reached out for help after struggling through three years of drought. Ten communities have already been awarded loans through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, and state officials say another 10 projects have been reviewed.
“The governor has made it a priority to invest in water infrastructure and this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Flynn said. “You simply can’t sustain a community without having a solid foundation and I think it’s not only a basic necessity for the social welfare of the community, but also an economic necessity.”
Flynn pointed to a survey by the American Society of Civil Engineers that puts a $922 million price tag on needed investments in New Mexico’s water infrastructure over the next 20 years.
A survey released earlier this year by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shows $384 billion in improvements are needed for the nation’s drinking water systems over the next two decades. Of that, more than $72 billion is needed to build, expand or revamp infrastructure aimed at reducing contamination.
Flynn said he believes New Mexico can make a dent in those numbers if it makes water a priority.
“I think you’re going to see a concerted effort in the years ahead to really make sure we position ourselves,” he said.
State officials said they are seeing most of the challenges in rural communities, many served by water authorities run by volunteers or where rates have stayed low and investment has been limited.
Portales has been planning to upgrade its wastewater treatment plant since 2007, when it began raising rates to help fund the project. City officials say the new system will serve about 30,000 people as well as industry for at least the next 70 years. The new system, which will allow for some treated wastewater to be reused, will also help with conservation efforts.
Carlsbad, Rio Rancho and San Juan County are also using loans through the state fund for water infrastructure improvements. The program relies on 20 percent funding from the state, with the federal government matching the rest.