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Carlsbad getting flushed by increase in demand for commercial sewage service

Jonathan Smith for Carlsbad Current-Argus, N.M

CARLSBAD — Talk about a stinky situation. That’s exactly what the city council will do Tuesday.

Thanks to Southeastern New Mexico’s booming oil and gas industry, the city’s wastewater treatment plant has been taking nearly 10 times the volume of liquid waste than originally intended. Most of the waste comes from septic tanks, portable toilets and recreational vehicles.

As a response, the city is proposing new fees and regulations for commercial liquid waste collectors. The proposal will be heard at tonight’s city council meeting.

Related: No end in sight for NM’s oil boom

If passed, liquid waste vendors would be required to pay a fee of eight cents per gallon, or $80 per thousand gallons, dumped at the city’s waste treatment facility, said Luis Camero, utilities director for Carlsbad. The proposal would not affect the city’s sewage service fees or individuals who dump their waste independently to the plant.

The reasoning for the fees? The city wants to combat the large volume of waste it currently receives at the plant, which has increased in recent years because of the oil and gas boom in the area. It doesn’t help that the service is currently free in Carlsbad while other nearby communities charge some type of fee, which is why commercial liquid waste is coming to Carlsbad from all over Eddy and Lea counties, and as far as Pecos, Texas, officials say.

The regulations would also help preserve the $17 million waste treatment plant’s lifespan.

“With the growth we are experiencing, this regulation is going to help us maintain the integrity of the plant for the residents of the city,” City Administrator Steve McCutcheon said.

Camero said that 20 years ago, the facility was receiving 6,000 gallons of liquid waste a day from two to three outside private haulers. However, because of recent economy boom, the facility receives about 50,000 gallons of liquid waste a day from close to 30 vendors, he said.

Camero said during a March Board of Water and Sewer Commissioners meeting that the plant has experienced some problems with its digester, or waste container, because the dumping of partially treated waste has increased, according to the meeting’s minutes.

If approved, regulations would require vendors to obtain a permit and pay a fee to the city. Most of the companies that use the service are permitted by the city to use the facility, Camero said. The permit would have to be renewed each year. Commercial users would also be required to carry a “trip manifest book,” which would keep a record of the vehicle hauler, the origin of the waste, the type of waste, the quantity of the waste, among other details.

The liquid waste is typically from residential septic tanks, car wash facilities and chemical toilets from oil and gas drilling sites, RV parks and temporary housing facilities.

Jonathan Smith may be reached at 575-628-5516

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