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The Village of Chama in northern New Mexico is out of water.
Matthew Gallegos, the village’s mayor pro tem, said Monday morning that what likely began as a break in the main water line has turned into a full-blown water crisis.
“We have no water in our tanks,” Gallegos said. “We need help.”
Residents lined up outside the village hall on Monday to fill containers from a state-supplied water truck.
The emergency water supply came from the Jicarilla Apache Nation community of Dulce.
But Gallegos said that the truck is expected to leave by the end of the week. About 1,000 residents will be without any water.
“We’ve fixed some leaks, mainly on people’s distribution lines rather than the main line, and we’ve also repaired some valves,” Gallegos said Monday. “But this morning, we all woke up and turned on the faucet, and nothing came out.”
The village of about 1,000 residents receives water from the Rio Chama.
State agencies began stepping in on June 10 after learning of a leak in the village’s distribution system.
The Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management is delivering 15,000 to 20,000 gallons of potable water a day, along with bottled water.
An engineering company is expected to assess the problem later this week.
The New Mexico Environment Department has offered technical assistance and is prepared to help the village with the contracting process for fixing the water system.
In a June 10 letter to Mayor Ernest Vigil, NMED Secretary James Kenney said his agency would continue to assist with the village’s drinking water issues.
He also referenced $800,000 in state capital outlay funds from 2021 awarded to the village for water system improvements.
“I recommend you use this funding to identify and correct the leak as soon as possible to ensure adequate storage and consistent supply of safe drinking water for the community,” Kenney wrote.
The emergency supply is not enough to pressurize the water lines and pinpoint the leak locations, Gallegos said.
Chama businesses have suffered several recent economic blows because of the COVID-19 pandemic, drought and wildfires.
The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad pushed back its opening until July because of wildfire concerns.
Village councilor Scott Flury said he fears for the welfare of elderly residents.
But he also stressed the impact that the water outage could have on local tourism.
“There’s not a date we can give to say you’ll have water to resume business,” Flury said. “It’s a scary situation.”
Officials have ordered signs to be placed at village entrances to warn of the water situation.
With rains complicating the leak detection efforts, Chama faces a weekslong water outage.
“These folks only have a few months to make their livelihood, and we don’t know how many will survive,” Flury said.
Gallegos pointed out that the area “has not really rebounded” from another water crisis two years ago.
For two months in the spring of 2020, the state Environment Department warned Chama residents to boil their water.
High turbidity levels were hampering bacteria treatments.
Years of neglect at the local treatment plant had taken a toll on the village’s ability to properly filter water.
A local resident has offered the use of ponds on her property in case the village needs water to fight structure fires or new wildfires, Gallegos said.
“I’ve attempted to purchase pallets of water for the village, but good luck getting that much water at the grocery stores,” he said. “There’s so many other emergencies right now.”