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BernCo works to bring water to South Valley area

Bernalillo County Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada talks Thursday about plans to bring safe, clean drinking water to the South Valley community of Los Padillas. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

LOS PADILLAS – This isn’t exactly a new community. Dating back to the Tiwa Indians, people have lived here for many hundreds of years. A post office was established in 1903.

Even so, some of the 3,000 people who live in this South Valley neighborhood do not have clean, reliable water service.

On Thursday, the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority and Bernalillo County announced that they are each kicking in $250,000 to help correct that.

“Today marks the next step in bringing safe and reliable municipal drinking water to the Los Padillas neighborhood,” Steven Michael Quezada, the Bernalillo County commissioner who represents the community, said during a news conference at the Los Padillas Community Center.

But Quezada, noting that more than $4 million in additional funds will be needed to complete this step, said the work will take time.

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” he said. “But now that we have the funding to get started, we’re confident we will see it through to completion.”

Quezada said local officials will seek additional funding from state and federal sources.

County and Water Authority officials agree that the money on hand is only enough to complete the design and planning for this phase of extending water lines into Los Padillas. Project boundaries extend roughly from Coors Boulevard on the west to the Rio Grande on the east and from Los Padillas Road on the north to the edge of Isleta Pueblo on the south.

Brad Catanach, engineering and construction manager for the county public works division, said Water Authority planning and design should be done by the end of the year.

“Then we need to find the big money,” he said. That’s the money needed to break ground and do the actual work.

The work actually started years ago. This effort, phase 7B, is, in fact, the latest part of a 13-year effort that has seen about $77 million spent on bringing water services to Los Padillas, an unincorporated area.

Catanach said the county did the planning, design and construction on phases 1 to 7A. Phase 7A ended in spring 2014 when the county ran out of money.

Water is a potential health risk for Los Padillas residents who are not already hooked up to water lines. The neighborhood is served by shallow domestic wells that are threatened by contamination from leaking underground petroleum storage tanks, septic tank effluent and agricultural irrigation.

Quezada, who was elected to Bernalillo Commission District 2 last year, said Los Padillas was the first community to reach out to him when he was campaigning.

“They took me into their homes and turned on their faucets and showed me their water,” he said. “It was not pretty. It had an odor; it was brown. They don’t drink it or cook with it. They wash with it, but these folks go through washing machines in a couple of years. Their kids can’t wear white clothes.”

Others speaking at the news conference included Klarissa Peña, District 3 city councilor and chair of the Water Authority Board, and state representatives Patricio Ruiloba of District 12 and Andrés Romero of District 10. Romero was born and went to school in Los Padillas, and his parents live near the community center. He said it will take cooperation to get good, safe water to all of the community.

“It is not one agency’s responsibility to fund these projects,” he said. “We all know times are tight, but we need to stick together to get this much-needed project done.”

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