Bosque Farms — The wastewater treatment plant in Bosque Farms has needed a second clarifier for decades, and the town of Peralta has joined forces with its neighbor to the north to try to get the needed funding.

Due to insufficient funding for a second wastewater clarifier at the village of Bosque Farms’ wastewater treatment plant, important maintenance on the lone clarifier is on hold.

“Being an aging plant, we always got to plan for malfunctions and breakdowns,” said David Chavez, village of Bosque Farms utility director. “I am not worried about it at this stage because of the maintenance we do on it, but there’s always that worry without having something as a backup and that second clarifier would give us a lot of breathing room.”

A significant portion of Peralta’s population is still relying on septic tanks, which produce high nitrate levels in the area’s drinking water.

In 1995, Bosque Farms developed a plan to stop using septic systems and protect the aquifer’s drinking water by building a wastewater treatment plant that can process 500,000 gallons of wastewater per day. The WWTP’s first phase was completed in 1999 and the entire system was completed in seven years at just more than $4 million.

In 2012, echoing Bosque Farms’ earlier move, Peralta officials chose to abandon its aging septic systems. They formed a memorandum of understanding with Bosque Farms, allowing Peralta residents and businesses to connect to its sewer system and WWTP due to its capacity to manage the added flow.

“The big thing is having this clarifier to help both cities to grow and prosper,” says Chavez.

Currently, Bosque Farms has about 1,600 properties connected to the WWTP. On the other hand, the town of Peralta has just a little more than 400 connected properties, but the long-term goal is to have 1,500 residents and businesses connected to the system.

The connection fee varies between these towns. Bosque Farms charges $6,795.24, while Peralta charges $3,500 for a single residential unit and $4,500 for a double grinder pumping unit. A double-grinder pumping unit is used for multi-unit housing or businesses that consume a lot of water.

Jesse Jones | News-Bulletin photo
The lone wastewater clarifier at the Bosque Farms Wastewater Treatment Plant works to process the sewage from Bosque Farms and Peralta. A second clarifier is needed for crucial maintenance but without funding, the WWTP is left with just the one.

 

How it works

The lack of a second clarifier is the core issue, and what it does may be unclear to some.

“What the clarifier does, basically, is you’re looking at it as its own ecosystem,” says Chavez.

At the beginning of the water treatment process, oxygen is mixed with the sewage, which releases gases such as hydrogen sulfide, which makes the rotten egg smell. When organic matter in water decays, it consumes oxygen. To restore the oxygen levels, air is infused into the water.

This process suspends organic matter, such as coffee and sand, and allows heavier materials to settle at the bottom.

According to Chavez, there are “little bugs” that eat it and digest the sewage. In this process, the little bugs or microorganisms consume and break down the organic matter in the sewage, making it easier to separate the solids from the water.

Wastewater solids settle at the bottom, forming sludge. The scum floats to the top and is skimmed off. The sludge is pumped out and deposited in the village’s 240-acre facility on an access near N.M. 6.

After the sludge has been separated, the water is disinfected using a UV system, says Chavez.

“We’re not killing (the microorganisms) but we are sterilizing the bugs that go through,” he says. “So, they can’t create any more germs or harm to the people and the river.”

After being disinfected, the effluent or treated wastewater is discharged into the Rio Grande.

“There are approximately 25 individual permits that discharge to the Rio Grande from the Colorado border to the Texas border,” said Jorge Armando Estrada, public relations coordinator for the New Mexico State Environment Department, “The reason I say ‘approximately’ is because there are a couple discharges that don’t discharge directly to the Rio Grande but may influence water quality in the Rio.”

Health concerns

The shallow domestic wells in the area paired with aging septic systems and cesspools and a high groundwater level have resulted in contamination of drinking water in northern Valencia County, according to an article in WaterWorld Magazine.

Nitrate is the primary contaminant in drinking water that wastewater treatment plants remove. It is a colorless and tasteless chemical that requires testing to identify.

Nitrate is vital for all life forms, but high nitrate levels in water can be harmful to humans and animals. Human activities, such as using fertilizers, septic tanks, industrial and animal waste, and food processing can increase water nitrate levels.

Infants, pregnant women and nursing mothers are at a higher risk of health problems caused by high nitrate levels in drinking water. This is because babies under 6 months old are especially vulnerable to acute nitrate poisoning, which is also called “blue baby syndrome” or methemoglobinemia.

If baby formula is mixed with well water that has a high concentration of nitrates, it can pose a significant risk to the baby; however, older children and adults are usually not at risk since their bodies can handle and flush out nitrates effectively.

There are research studies that show a concerning correlation between nitrate contamination in drinking water can lead to other health concerns. According to an article in Source NM, the nonprofit organization, Environmental Working Group, has analyzed water quality issues and found that the maximum U.S. federal levels for nitrate can lead to cancer. The group estimated that nearly 13,000 cancer cases per year in New Mexico could be caused by nitrate.

A scientific report published in Nature.com stated nitrate contamination may lead to adverse reproductive and birth outcomes.

Important maintenance

The age of the original clarifier at the WWTP in Bosque Farms is another reason a second clarifier is so important.

Chavez said despite having a concrete coating, the clarifier will deteriorate at a certain age due to sewage and the mechanized parts inside will only last so long in the corrosive environment. He said two things can be done to repair the clarifier.

“You can actually hire somebody that dives down and does some of those repairs but they only will be able to do minimal repairs because they’re actually diving for sewage,” Chavez said.

The best way to repair the clarifier would be to have a second clarifier to take the original one offline. Then they could drain it, clean it and do any repairs needed. Then both would be operational.

Needed funding

The original clarifier was completed in two phases over seven years, costing $4,083,460. Recent estimates have a second clarifier costing in the range of $14 to $20 million.

In 2021, according to the former Bosque Farms mayor Russel Walkup, the village had received funding from the state, which the village had matched.

“Everybody just inflated their prices by 30-some-odd percent and there was no way we had that kind of funding,” said Walkup. “It’s just that the pandemic and the product chain supply were just not there and people were not willing to give good bids.”

The village has had the second clarifier on its Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan for decades, but the full funding was never appropriated by the state Legislature.

“You have to be aggressive in trying to find the funding, whether it be legislation, whether it be grants, whatever type of funding is out there, even federal funding,” said Vernon Abeita, Bosque Farms village clerk/administrator.

The village is looking at all the resources available for funding, including going to state or federal representatives.

In August, the Bosque Farms leadership met with U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury to discuss the need for the clarifier.

“Recently, my team finally got the village’s grant funding request for the clarifier,” Stansbury wrote in an email to the News-Bulletin. “I look forward to working alongside the village, which always has an open line to our office, and assure you that we will stay in collaboration and communication with Bosque Farms to continue to address these critical infrastructure needs.”

Newly-elected mayor of Bosque Farms Wayne Ake and Peralta Mayor Brian Olguin plan to meet with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to discuss possible state funding for the second clarifier.

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Jesse Jones lives in Albuquerque with his wife and son. Jesse graduated from of the University of New Mexico twice. This spring, he graduated with a degree in multimedia journalism and, in 2006, he received a bachelor’s degree in university studies with an emphasis in photojournalism. He is a current fellow of the New Mexico Local News Fund.