MORE INFORMATION

For more information on the state's permitting process and regulatory guidelines, go to www.nmenv.state.nm.us/gwb. To be included as an interested party to the RV park, contact Gerald “Jake” Knutson, environmental scientist for the Environment Department and technical reviewer for the proposed lagoon, call 505-827-2996 or write to Gerald.Knutson@state.nm.us

AZTEC — About 50 neighbors, officials and residents packed San Juan County Council chambers Wednesday to ask questions and address concerns with the state's Environment Department over a proposed RV park northeast of Aztec.

Bob Echols, project engineer with Cheney-Walters-Echols, speaks with his client Tom Payne at Wednesday’s public meeting.
Bob Echols, project engineer with Cheney-Walters-Echols, speaks with his client Tom Payne at Wednesday's public meeting. (Jon Austria The Daily Times)

The concerns centered on an evaporative lagoon that would handle the proposed 2,240 gallons per day of waste water from the 59 RVs the property can accommodate. Under the proposed lagoon, the water, containing dissolved solids and RV waste chemicals, would fill a shallow lagoon and evaporate over time. Any remaining solids would be removed by the operator.

Tom Payne, who owns the property where the park is to be built, applied in May for a discharge permit from the state's Ground Water Quality Bureau to install the lagoon. The property is located at 16747 Highway 550, roughly 7 miles northeast of Aztec.

Payne did not speak during Wednesday's meeting and declined to comment afterward.

Evaporative lagoons are a common disposal strategy, said Robert George, domestic waste team leader for the Ground Water Quality Bureau, at the meeting. The bureau is responsible for oversight of all ground water systems once they are approved.

With a 60-millimeter-thick polyethylene liner to guard against ground water contamination, the lagoon Payne hopes to install on the southernmost and lowest portion of the property has a design life of 20 years.

"The lagoon itself is a treatment process -- a solar-based system. It grows algae to help fight the bacteria," George said. "Over time, solids accumulate and need to be removed."

Concerns over odors emanating from the lagoon were raised. One resident asked whether winter temperatures would suspend algae grow, and odors would get worse.

"If properly designed and maintained, odors should be minimized," George responded.

The lagoon's location in a flood plain and its proximity to two domestic water ditches and the Animas River were cause for a flurry of questions at various points during the two-hour meeting. Some residents also were not convinced the bureau has the personnel or budget to adequately oversee the lagoon's operation.

The state officials said the permit would require a monitor well to be located close to the lagoon. Ground water samples would also be required to be sent to the bureau by a state licensed operator for the lagoon every quarter for analysis.

"If something goes wrong, we will require the permittee to follow our guidelines to resolve the failure," said Jake Knutson, technical reviewer for the bureau. "Facilities like this one are generally inspected by the NMED once every two years."

Permits must be renewed every five years, which allows for reopening of public comment on the lagoon, Knutson said.

"If we get a report of a complaint, we may go out (to the lagoon) more often," said Jennifer Pruett, program manager at the bureau.

Jim Dahlberg asks a question about a ground water discharge permit for the proposed Payne RV Park during a public meeting Wednesday at the San Juan County
Jim Dahlberg asks a question about a ground water discharge permit for the proposed Payne RV Park during a public meeting Wednesday at the San Juan County Council Chambers in Aztec. (Jon Austria The Daily Times)

Questions about the lagoon's vulnerability to animal attacks, including deer and eagles, were also raised.

"Everything is a pro and a con with waste water," George said. "Everything hinges on the design and maintenance of the system."

Mary Hunter, a retired nurse who lives in Cedar Hill with her husband, left the meeting dissatisfied.

"We get our water from Northstar water, whose intake is only a quarter of a mile from this proposed lagoon," she said. "If that lagoon overflows, it would be terrible."

Hunter said that even after the meeting, she is "still uncomfortable with the whole thing."

Aztec native and former clean water coalition member Jake Hottell echoed Hunter's doubts.

"It's going to take real grassroots people to fight this," he said. "I don't like lagoons, period, especially ones like this one, right on the banks of the ditch. Pretty unintelligent, if you ask me."

Aztec Water Treatment Plant Supervisor Andrew Galloway attended the meeting and said he was impressed with the bureau's presentation, even though a concrete design for the park and water system have not yet been made clear.

"My goal is to protect (the city's) water source, that's why I'm here," he said. "It's hard to ask intelligent questions when you don't have a final design. Right now, it's all theory."

In the coming weeks, the bureau will conduct a technical review of the application and prepare a draft permit and send it to interested parties and make it available online. The public then has 30 days to review the document and request a public meeting.

James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and jfenton@daily-times.com. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.