A small town seeks help to get water in the right places
February 6, 2024
A small town seeks help to get water in the right places
February 6, 2024

The Village of Corrales, New Mexico, has too much water in the wrong places, and not enough in the right places. Its residents hope federal infrastructure grants can help create a better balance.

The picturesque village of 8,300 people, 13 miles north of Albuquerque and next to the Rio Grande River, suffers damaging floods every few years. Meanwhile its residents thirst for other types of water, because Corrales has no central system to handle drinking water or wastewater. That means nearly all households are on well water, and most use septic systems for waste.

The town also needs more water lines and hydrants to fight fires. Its existing hydrants are supplied by tanks that require pumps to create enough pressure for firefighters, but more lines and hydrants are needed to supply water to more areas.

Corrales needs a “fire suppression system,” as Mayor James F. Fahey Jr. wrote in one of his frequent messages to constituents. Meantime, he said, “septic tanks and associated leach fields are the greatest cause of contamination of the groundwater.”

Corrales is seeking funds from recently enacted measures, such as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, designed to improve roads, water systems and other essential facilities throughout the nation.

Small towns like this typically have little or no experience applying for federal grants, which can be complex and carry numerous restrictions. “It’s not something that we as a village regularly apply for, because of those restrictions,” says Tanya Lattin, the deputy chief of emergency medical services and emergency management.

That changed, however, when Lattin learned of the Local Infrastructure Hub, a national program created last year to help small and mid-sized cities develop competitive infrastructure grant applications. She participated in one of the hub’s grant-writing bootcamps, and now is seeking a BRIC grant (Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities).

“I love it, everyone should take it,” Lattin says of the online bootcamp. “It has given me the confidence to write federal grants I wouldn’t haven’t tried before. It is an amazing program.”

Corrales hopes a grant can help do several things, including:

      • Expand a small waste-water treatment system that now serves residents on only one road.
      • Install a Membrane BioReactor that converts waste water into safer forms that can be used for irrigation and watering soccer fields (but not for drinking).
      • Build a new water tower large enough and high enough to supply ample pressure for firefighters without needing a pump.

Corrales is not affluent. It has no grocery store—just one gas station and a mom-and-pop shop. The town’s only bank closed last year.

A third of its residents are 65 or older, many living on modest fixed incomes.

Due to its proximity to Albuquerque and large lot sizes, however, Corrales’ property values are comparatively strong. The median home value is $475,000. But that can work against them when seeking grants that are designed for low-wealth communities.

“The government says you are too wealthy to get grants,” Lattin says. She is combatting that argument by noting Corrales has a high percentage of elderly people living in flood-prone areas. “They know people 65 and older are vulnerable,” she says, and she’s hopeful about the town’s grant prospects.

Lattin urges other towns to contact the Local Infrastructure Hub, which is led and funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Ballmer Group, Emerson Collective, Ford Foundation and The Kresge Foundation. Its partners include the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities.

“I learned a lot from the bootcamp,” Lattin says. “It has given me access to things I didn’t know were there.”

With luck—and federal help—Corrales can get the right types of water in the right places soon.

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