Totah residents hear options for water, sewer

Hannah Grover

FARMINGTON — Residents of the Totah subdivision had their first glance today at what it would take for their homes to become connected to the Farmington sewer and water systems.

Kirsty Bramlett, an engineer with Bohannan Huston, talks about plans for linking houses in the Totah subdivision to the Farmington water and sewer systems during a meeting on Thursday at the Sycamore Park Community Center in Farmington.

Engineers from Bohannan Huston, an Albuquerque engineering firm that was hired to do a preliminary engineering study, presented the plans for the interconnection during a meeting at the Sycamore Park Community Center.

The subdivision is located on a small section of land between south Farmington and the San Juan River south of Sycamore Street. There are 138 lots in the subdivision, and the residents currently rely on septic tanks and wells.

Kristy Bramlett, an engineer intern for Bohannan Huston, said the high level of groundwater and the poor soil drainage in the area create the potential for the septic systems to contaminate wells.

Margaret Clements, who owns several properties on Ouray Avenue located at the north end of the subdivision, said she has been concerned about the water since she bought the properties in 1991.

"I don't expect much out of this meeting because (San Juan County officials) don't have the money," Clements said before the meeting.

After hearing concerns from residents about the drinking water possibly being contaminated by leaking septic tanks, San Juan County officials began looking for solutions. A $100,000 grant from the New Mexico Finance Authority allowed San Juan County to contract with Bohannan Huston for the preliminary engineering study to examine options for water and wastewater systems in the subdivison.

Totah subdivision residents Ernest and Nell Burton look over a map of their neighborhood during a meeting Thursday at the Sycamore Park Community Center in Farmington.

The engineers recommended hooking into the nearby Farmington water and wastewater systems.

The preliminary engineering study is a toolkit for the county to get grants and funding for the connection to Farmington, Donzil Worthington, the project development manager for Bohannan Huston, told residents.

The engineers estimate connecting to the sewer system would cost about $3.8 million, and the water system connection would cost $2.5 million. Bramlett said the county could save money by doing the projects at the same time because it would reduce the price of repaving the streets after the lines are installed.

While the connections would provide better water quality, as well as better water pressure at the fire hydrants, the residents who have never had to pay water or sewer bills would be facing monthly bills from the city of Farmington. Jeff Smaka, the administrator of Farmington's water and wastewater systems, said the rates for people outside the city limits are one and a half times higher than rates for city residents.

Mike Stark, the county operations officer, said the potential connection depends on funding and community support. He said there is no timeline for when the county may connect the subdivision to the Farmington systems.

San Juan County Chief Operation Officer Mike Stark, center, talks with Totah subdivision residents Archie Holmes and Margaret Clements during a meeting Thursday at the Sycamore Park Community Center in Farmington.

Stark said the Totah subdivision situation is not unique in the county. The county began gathering funds for a Kirtland sewer system in 1997 and began pumping wastewater from Kirtland to Farmington's treatment plant in 2011. Stark cited the Kirtland sewer system as an example of a completed project similar to the Totah subdivision project. He also highlighted a current project to connect Flora Vista to Farmington's wastewater system. The county is currently trying to secure funds for the project. It received $3 million in capital outlay funds last year for the project, but officials are still searching for an additional $6 million.

"It can happen," he said. "It does take time."

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.