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Editorial: Carnuel Water Line Costs Soak Taxpayers

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While it may be hard for taxpayers to swallow spending $6.7 million to extend water lines to a small number of homes in a rural community, knowing those residents don’t have access to potable water might make it go down a little easier.

But when those residents — almost to a person — decline to spend the required amount to hook up to the system ($1,000-$2,000 to install a pipe from their homes to the street, along with $430 down and monthly payments of $28.72 financed over 10 years), there’s little question as to who’s getting soaked.

Call it New Mexico’s Water Line Nobody Wanted (ultimately a $20-plus million water supply to — so far — just seven homes). The rest of the 50 eligible residents in the project’s first, completed phase are, presumably, purchasing drinking water and bathing/washing in water contaminated by the area’s faulty septic systems. Their well water’s high nitrate content makes it especially dangerous for babies and the elderly.

So it’s not surprising the U.S. Department of Agriculture is questioning Carnuel’s commitment to the project when it comes to additional phases and funding. The project could ultimately reach 800 homes. Terry Brunner, the head of the USDA’s Albuquerque office, says Carnuel is competing with communities around the state for a share of $11.3 million in grants and loans, and to date the project’s lack of cost effectiveness is working against it.

Blame for that flows to the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority and the neighborhood advocates clamoring to keep the floodgates of public cash open. Did anyone take an initial survey of those first 50 residents to gauge interest? Or take the next step and get some commitments to hook up?

Apparently not. Wayne Johnson, who represents the area on the Bernalillo County Commission, says, “We can’t just force people to hook up.”

True enough. And you can’t continue to just sink millions in public money into a project without ensuring its recipients want it enough to pay to hook up as well.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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