Portales City Manager Comments on Recent Water Outage

Portales experienced a water outage Saturday, Sept. 7, which caused residents to live without running water for nearly 24 hours. The line first broke in 2004. “Back then, the city took many steps to try to put in isolation valves to keep us from losing service to the town,” City Manager Sammy Standefer said. “There [have] been isolation valves installed in the line and the city has done its best to repair it.” He said that the line has broken over 15 times since. He said the pipeline broke each time because it is directly buried on rock. “The proper way would be to bed it in a blanket of sand,” he said.

“We’ve had a problem with this line over the years. It was installed many years ago, and when they installed it, there were some flaws. They didn’t put any shut-off valves and they didn’t band the pipe properly,” said Standefer. “It appears that every time the pipe has broken, it’s been [in] a rocky area the pipe was laid directly on top of…the crack and the hole is always punctured from the bottom where the rock is,” Standefer said.

“Unfortunately, some of the isolation valves that were put in didn’t completely isolate the leak. And so there essentially wasn’t any way to shut it down,” said Standefer. “The only way to shut it down was to cut off the main valve into town.”

Standefer also said that the city was going to run of water. “The tanks were running dry…[the leak] depleted everything in just a couple of hours,” he said. “The truth of it is, we had to shut it down and let our tanks start rebuilding.”

He said the pipe is very large, so it is difficult to maneuver. Much of the time spent was pumping and digging to eject water from the pipe.

“The pumping and the refilling process alone took a long time, and so I don’t like to put blame on anyone,” he said. “It's our generation’s problem to fix, and it could have been installed two or three or four generations ago.”

Standefer said the city works diligently to replace the lines it has; in fact, that was the only option in this latest incident. “Replacing the five-mile pipeline, the estimated costs are somewhere around $1 million a mile to fix it, and that comes from taxpayers.”

Standefer said that their first step is to look into funding opportunities that might arise to repair the line. “We are going to work diligently to try and find an isolation point somewhere else we can isolate,” he said. “That way, our whole town [and] community doesn’t suffer.”

“It was a horrible inconvenience, but I am very proud of our guys. Most of them were up close to 36 hours because the leak happened at around 10 p.m., and they were probably up all day.” He said he was proud of the community who stepped up hauled water back and forth. “The industries really stepped up and provided water and tankers.” By everyone stepping up and helping, the city got the water back in just a day, he said.

There were no reports of people getting sick from the water, according to Standifer. “We issued a voluntary notice. It was more of an alert to the people that there could potentially be issues.” Standefer said the water was fine, but the city was taking precautions based on Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

“The community has been great,” Standifer said. “Of course, not everyone is happy about it, but [I am] still amazed by the support that we received from all the other entities – like Eastern, for example – and the other entities were helping out.” He said everyone wanted to help and, that is what “makes our town great.”

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