By Ken Camp
After a site visit to Glorieta Conference Center, New Mexico’s state engineer ordered the camp — which Southern Baptists’ LifeWay Christian Resources sold to an independent Christian camping organization — to cease pumping water into its pond and the overflow into Glorieta Creek.
In a Dec. 5 letter, Ramona Martinez, Upper Pecos Basin supervisor in the state water rights division, reported a representative from the state engineer’s office met with Glorieta management regarding the issue after a November field-check of the pond and eight wells.
The state official verbally informed Glorieta “all pumping into the pond and overflow of water into Glorieta Creek must cease until all issues pertaining to their water rights, current use and administrative matters have been addressed and resolved,” Martinez wrote.
The letter noted the state engineer’s office was informed Dec. 3 the camp had hired Glorieta Geoscience Inc. “to assist them in rectifying the operational and administrative problems within the compound.”
The state engineer’s office requested copies of all documents related to the wells and was “in the process of verifying all meters, serial numbers, and meter reading and use,” Martinez wrote.
The state office also informed the camp administrators of “their responsibility to act within the limitations of their permits, as well as maintain compliance with our office in terms of administrative paperwork,” the letter stated.
Neighbors had complained, alleging the conference center was wasting water and draining the aquifer basin that fed their wells — an assertion Glorieta officials denied.
“Glorieta has not wasted water. We have pumped more in recent years because we have had greater occupancy and activities,” said Anthony Scott, Glorieta executive director.
‘No proof and only supposition’
“Not only have we chosen to be good stewards in our usage, we have responded positively to our neighbors. Although there is no proof and only supposition that our use of a [re-energized] particular well has affected the level of water in wells more than a mile from our property, as soon as I heard that suggestion, I had that well turned off and have not used it for anything other than testing purposes. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been appreciated nor has it stopped the unproved allegations and complaints.”
Anita Nugent, who filed the complaint, sees a direct cause-and-effect relationship between Glorieta’s increased water usage and serious issues she and her neighbors have faced this year.
For most of the 31 years Nugent has lived near Glorieta Conference Center, she experienced no serious water problems, apart from any common to other residents of drought-plagued northeast New Mexico. That changed seven months ago, when water pressure from her well began to drop, eventually slowing to a trickle, she said.
“With no water running outside, it is to the point now where if I try to run water for a bath, I can only get about two inches in the bathtub, and then the water shuts off,” she said.
Reported problems with nearby water wells
About a half-dozen neighbors in a straight line extending from Glorieta Conference Center reported similar problems, she noted. One, who installed a new well and pump just two years ago, saw pressure drop from 100 gallons per minute to less than 10 gallons per minute, she said. However, homeowners across the road, whose wells pump from a different aquifer basin, experienced no problems, she observed.
Nugent — a 70-year-old physics teacher — asserted the camp was wasting water to inflate its recorded water usage for 2014, so it could launch a water park in the future. New Mexico bases legal water rights on historic usage, looking at how much was used the previous year, she explained.
Scott disputed her assertions, saying appropriate agencies monitored the camp’s water usage throughout the year, and Glorieta complied with their instructions.
“We don’t have any plans to expand our water-recreation facilities at this point. As with all our plans, we will study our programs and needs each year to determine where we will expand.”
Before she complained to the state engineer’s office, Nugent contacted Glorieta. She asserted a staff member responsible for well maintenance told her the camp had “redone” its pond and needed to refill it, pumping 24 hours a day, seven days a week at a rate of 200 gallons per minute.
“He stated that they had the pumps running at 200 gallons per minute 24/7 since early April — when we started seeing some well problems,” Nugent said.
Charges of wasteful water usage
When she asked how long it would take to fill the pond, he allegedly acknowledged it already had filled two weeks earlier, and the camp was pumping overflow into Glorieta Creek, so the camp could prove its water usage rights. If pumping continued for a full year, Nugent calculated the total amount at 105 million gallons.
“The fiscally and environmentally responsible thing to do would be to line the pond and install a circulating pump,” she said. “It is raping the environment to pump water directly into the pond and let it flow uselessly into Glorieta Creek.”
Scott insisted Glorieta has not expanded its lake or wasted water, and he denied allegations Glorieta had pumped dry one of its own wells.
“The lake at Glorieta has the same footprint along its shore that it has had for 60 years,” he said. “It is shallower than before, and it now contains an island. Therefore, it has less surface space and less volume than before.”
The field visit by the state engineer’s office “did not reveal any evidence of the pond referenced in your letter being enlarged or recent construction other than the addition of recreational amenities,” Martinez wrote to Nugent.
The pond at the conference center was built in the drainage of Glorieta Creek, Scott noted.
“It is a natural creek that flows with spring runoff and rains that occur in the mountains,” he said.
“Whenever the lake is full and water continues into it from an upstream source, it continues to flow out of the lake into Glorieta Creek. Our downstream neighbors love it when this happens — and incorrectly blame us when it doesn’t. We have a re-circulation system that takes water from the lake, pumps it upstream and back into the hardened creek bed so that it will flow back into the lake, circulating and re-oxidizing the water.”
Nugent insists she and others in the area had a good relationship with the historically Baptist conference center many years. Three family members worked at the camp in the past, and her daughter was married in Glorieta’s prayer garden.
“I have known many of the past employees as good friends, and our children grew up together, as well as going to church together at First Baptist in Santa Fe,” she said.
Digging new wells could be costly
But that relationship changed. Several of her neighbors already have spent thousands of dollars on their water systems, often with disappointing results, she noted. If Nugent has to dig a new deeper well, it will cost $20,000.
“I feel that if we don’t stay on top of this, all may be lost,” she said. “If they use groundwater the way they did last summer, all our wells are in further jeopardy.”
Based on what some people in the area have reported, she wonders how long Glorieta has been pumping water in what she considers a wasteful manner.
“I am getting phone calls all the time from people in the area who are upset at the waste of water that has taken place,” she wrote in a Dec. 30 email.
“About two to three weeks ago, I heard from a lady who personally witnessed and photographed the same huge stream of water coming from large pipes in Glorieta and pumping directly onto the ground. She thought it so odd that she took photographs of this and sent me one. This occurred, not this year, but in September of 2013. This makes me wonder just how long this wasteful water use has been occurring.”