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Truth or Consequences’s water lines are breaking at an escalating pace

by Kathleen Sloan | March 9, 2021
5 min read
The site of last night's water-main break on Veater Street, looking south toward Radium Street. Photograph by Diana Tittle

In the last five weeks the City of Truth or Consequences’s water system has experienced six water-main breaks, including one that occurred just last night on Veater Street between Iron and Radium Streets.

The frequency of the breaks has escalated over the last 14 months, during which, all told, there were 18 water-main-break events in town and/or in Williamsburg, whose water lines are owned by T or C. Some events were actually clusters of breaks, seemingly occurring in a domino effect.

Deputy Chief of Police Erica Baker has posted alerts about water-main breaks on the city’s Facebook page since she became public information officer in December 2019. These notices are the only documentation available of the breaks. They may not, however, record every break that has taken place in the last 14 months, nor do they usually provide detailed accounts.

The Sierra County Sun submitted on Jan. 11 an Inspection of Public Records Act request, asking for documents recording the breaks, funds used to pay for repairs and the amount of water lost during the events. “These documents do not exist,” was the city’s response on Jan. 26.

The inconvenience and possible health consequences suffered by residents left without water for hours are also incalculable.

LOCATIONS OF BREAKS REPORTED ON CITY’S FACEBOOK PAGE

March 8, 2021: water-main break on Veater Street between Iron and Radium Streets, affecting Williamsburg

March 3, 2021: water-main break on Doris Lane in Williamsburg

Feb. 23, 2021: several water-main breaks in southwest T or C and Williamsburg on South Broadway Avenue at Good 2 Go and Southwest Signs and at the intersections of Cook and Hyde Streets and Cook Street and Henson Avenue

Feb. 17, 2021: water repairs at the intersections of Cook Street and Hyde Street and Cook Street and Belle Street

Feb. 9, 2021: water-main break affecting Parkway Drive, Kopra Street, Marie Street; also affecting the high school and middle school

Feb. 3, 2021: water-main break, 8th and Corbett Streets; second break at unnamed location

Jan. 10, 2021: water-main break, Zinc and Simpson Streets

Jan. 7, 2021: water-main break, 3rd Street between Gold and Silver Streets

Oct. 19, 2020: water department upgrades at the intersection of Riverside Drive and Charlie’s Lane, affecting the Rodeo Arena area

Sept. 1, 2020: water-main break on Veater

Sept. 1, 2020: water-main break, Mercury Street between Simpson and Marshall Streets

Aug. 13, 2020: several water-main breaks on Lincoln Avenue, Tungsten Street, Pershing Street, Austin Avenue, Foch Street, Aluminum Street, Morgan Street and Corona Street, affecting downtown and southwest T or C

Aug. 4, 2020: water-main break, Riverside Drive between Arrowhead Road and Rainbow Street

June 26, 2020: water-main break, 600 block of North Pershing Street

May 30, 2020:  two large water leaks, location unnamed, and “mechanical issues with the pumping system”

March 10, 2020: water-main break, intersection of Veater and Mercury 

Jan. 28, 2020: water-main breaks, Foch Street, Pershing Street, Austin Avenue, Post Street and Marr Avenue

WHAT SECTIONS OF TOWN HAVE BEEN HARDEST HIT?

PIO Baker’s notices of water-main breaks specify about 24 locations. Nine were near or on Veater Street in southwest T or C or Williamsburg.

The area with the second most breaks was downtown T or C, with five water-main breaks. Three of them occurred Aug. 13, 2020.

The area with the third most breaks was east T or C, with four water-main breaks off of or on 3rd Street and Riverside Drive. 8th and Corbett also experienced a water-main break.

The area with the fourth most breaks was west T or C. It experienced three water-main break events at Cook Street, Morgan Street and Hyde Street. Various side streets were also listed as among the affected locations.

North-central T or C also experienced three water-main break events, with Parkway Street, Kopra Street, Marie Street, Corona Street and North Pershing Street listed as the affected locations.

Over the past 14 months, the average time between breaks has been about 22 days. In the last five weeks, the average time between breaks has been about six days.

EFFECT ON CITY BUDGET

T or C’s budget for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2020, and ending June 30, 2021, put aside $33,125 for emergency repairs. Labor has also been budgeted: $40,000 for “temporary positions” at $12 an hour for outside workers, $20,000 for salaried workers’ overtime and $9,000 for salaried workers to “stand by.” Another $45,000 was budgeted to fix the roads torn up during water line repairs. The total figure budgeted for line repairs, road repairs and labor is $147,125.

The city may have already run through its “emergency repairs” budget item. The agenda for tomorrow’s March 10 city commission meeting includes a “justification” of a nearly $49,000 emergency procurement of services performed by New Mexico Tap Master of Albuquerque on “recent waterline breaks.” The meeting packet, which can be reviewed on the city’s website, details that the emergency work included two 12-inch “SS linestop sleeves,” two machines to blow the sleeves into pipes, $750 per day per machine to “hold” the line, mobilization charges and emergency freight charges.

Jesse Cole, the city’s water and wastewater director, who has declined to speak with the Sun about the condition of the city’s southern well field (see Related article below), will give a report on the Feb. 23 water-main breaks, as well as on “other water concerns” during tomorrow’s meeting.

author
Kathleen Sloan is the Sun’s founder and chief reporter. She can be reached at kathleen.sloan@gmail.com or 575-297-4146.
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HAVE YOU SEEN?

Third day on the job, Swingle brings transparency and reality to T or C’s budgeting process, Parts 1 and 2

In addition to contending with a $1.6 million deficit in the fiscal year 2021-2022 draft budget, new city manager Bruce Swingle informed the city commissioners that they must play a lead role in identifying departmental spending priorities and cuts and devising a plan within two years to end the practice of balancing the budget with transfers from utility fees.

Peter A. Lawton (T or C) commented on Part 1: It is nice to see there finally seems to be an adult in charge in our city. Great article!

Barb Dewell (T or C) commented on Part 2: I’m really surprised so much is going on in T or C that the commissioners don’t know anything about. It’s very disappointing. They don’t even appear to want to ask questions. It seems reports are made, Luna makes her comments, no one else has a question or comment, and the issue either goes the way Commissioner Luna wants or it’s tabled, I guess. This isn’t how our city should be run. Thank goodness for City Manager Swingle. I hope he is able to corral all this spending and these very loose approvals and get the city finances back on track. I know most residents are really worried about all this, as I’ve been, and we have high hopes for City Manager Swingle’s leadership.

Ronn Fenn (T or C) commented on Part 2: For a long time I’ve been questioning why this airport is a T or C-funded facility and not a county facility with its location about five miles from the recognized city proper and serving a largely non-resident user base. It and its annual transfer funds to support its operation needs to be investigated. This facility is not and probably never will be an income-producing asset. Its operating costs should be spread throughout the county and not borne solely by T or C’s residents. Pie in the Sky is not likely to land in T or C.

Lydia Dixon (T or C) commented on Part 2: This is great reporting. People would not know most of this if it were not published here. Thanks!

 

 

Welcome, Bruce!

Now that you’ve had a couple days to settle in as city manager, please consider implementing these 10 doable fixes that will make the governance of the City of Truth or Consequences more transparent, responsive and effective.

Reader Joey Perry (T or C) commented: Great suggestions. Here’s one more. Make the meeting agendas more informational. In addition to the ordinance number, include a sentence or two (in plain English) saying what the item is about and why it is on the agenda—e.g., what is the issue? This would help me decide if I want to attend a meeting, or write a letter to the manager or the commissioners, expressing my views ahead of the meeting.


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