ELDORADO WATER & SANITATION DISTRICT HISTORY
A full history of the Eldorado area can be found in the book Windmills and Dreams, published by the Eldorado Community Improvement Association (ECIA).
Early water services to the area
In the area of southeast Santa Fe County, which is now known as the Eldorado area, water services were originally provided by windmill-driven wells. This changed in 1969, when the American Realty and Petroleum Corporation (AMREP) purchased the Simpson Ranch for development.
Over the next three decades, subsidized community water services were provided by a subsidiary of AMREP, El Dorado Utilities (EDU). As new homes were built, EDU drilled wells and added water lines to meet growing needs. With its development nearing completion in 2000, AMREP ended its subsidization of water sales, moved to dispose of EDU by offering the system for sale, and began deferring maintenance.
Public acquisition of the system
There was a strong desire among residents of Eldorado to have control over their water supply. The Eldorado Area Water and Sanitation District was formed in 1997 by a vote of the Eldorado community, in order to have an entity legally empowered to enter into negotiations for purchase of the utility from AMREP. The new District Board commissioned an independent financial analysis of the water system, which estimated its value at about $3 million.
In 2001, AMREP entered into negotiations with a privately held utility conglomerate, and refused further negotiations with the District. Following a vote by the community served by the water utility, the District’s Board of Directors began the process of acquiring the utility by exercising the power of eminent domain granted to the District under the New Mexico Water and Sanitation Act.
Financing the purchase
In January 2003, the EAWSD Board approved the issuance of bonds, and in February, filed to condemn the water system in order to prevent its sale to the privately held utility conglomerate. AMREP appealed the condemnation and the case went to a jury trial in September 2004. The jury in the condemnation case set the price of the utility at $11.047 million.
EAWSD took on a debt of $13.7 million to acquire the utility (including bond issuance costs and funds for critically needed capital improvements). Some of this original debt was in the form of general obligation bonds secured by property taxes, and some in the form of revenue bonds secured by water rates. These bonds were refinanced at lower interest rates in June 2013, using loans from the New Mexico Finance Authority, and will be fully paid off in 2025. Payments to service this debt currently cost the Eldorado area community more than a million dollars a year.
The condition of the system at purchase
When EAWSD began operating the utility in early 2005, it found the system was in a state of neglect. Since 2000, when it put the system up for sale, EDU had deferred maintenance and had not added new wells. The pipeline infrastructure was aging and in poor condition. And because the system had been constructed by multiple contractors over a 30-year period, there was no single set of records of all the system components.
As a result, infrastructure improvement has been a key focus of the EAWSD Board of Directors since taking ownership. Over the years, the District has inventoried and assessed the entire system infrastructure, rehabilitated older wells, inspected and cleaned water tanks, added new production wells and pumping stations, replaced aging pipelines, installed new monitoring technology, and begun a project to optimize water pressure throughout the system.
EAWSD is a governmental body and "quasi-municipality," established under the New Mexico Water and Sanitation District Act. It has an elected, unpaid Board of Directors supported by volunteer committees. It makes no profit: all its revenues — whether from water sales and fees or from property taxes — go toward operating, maintaining and improving the water system and retiring the debt incurred when the EAWSD acquired the water system.
The District has three full-time employees, a General Manager, a Planning & Projects Manager, and an Administrative Assistant. Operations, maintenance and billing functions have been performed since 2004 under an ongoing contract with CH2M/OMI, a national engineering firm specializing in water utility services. Specialized engineering, financial, legal and hydrology services are contracted for as needed.
Water conservation has always been important to the Eldorado community. EAWSD maintains a Water Conservation Plan and a Water Restrictions and Alert Management Plan and has promoted water conservation through educational efforts and by structuring its rates so that heavy water users pay proportionally more for their water, especially during peak summer months. Between 2011 and 2016, the Eldorado community reduced its overall water consumption by more than 14 percent, based on gallons pumped, while the number of District customers increased by 2.1 percent. During the period, water usage per customer decreased by 14 percent.
The District is systematically replacing old mechanical meters with new radio-read and cellular technology meters that reduce the time and expense required to manually read meters every month. The newest of these electronic meters enable customers to monitor and manage their water use on a daily basis through a password-protected Web site.
The EAWSD Board of Directors has voted to increase water rates twice since acquiring the system. The first was in 2009, with the final phase of increases under that order taking effect in April 2011. The second was in 2015, with a schedule that increased certain rates gradually between 2016 and 2019. In each case, Board approval of the new rate structure followed an information program, community outreach for comment, and a formal hearing overseen by a Hearing Officer certified by the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission.