After yet another failure of the sewer line through Corrales’ business district, Village officials have applied for a $50,000 grant from the N.M. Environment Department to design an emergency bypass line. The agreement with NMED was considered at the August 17 council meeting. The wastewater line down the east side of Corrales Road leading to Albuquerque’s sewer line south of Alameda Boulevard, near Pep Boys, could not carry wastewater last month when valves near  Rincon and Corrales Roads failed to function as designed. But the need for a bypass line was evident when a blockage shut the line down last year. (See Corrales Comment Vol.XXXIX No.,18, December 5, 2020 “Sewer Clog Was From Brewery,  and  Vol.XXXX No.5 April 24, 2021 “Re-Thinking Corrales Sewer System Retrofit.”)

The council’s resolution specified that the grant agreement was “to plan, design, construct a wastewater emergency bypass and collection system for Corrales.” Already under way is an extension of sewer service to higher density neighborhoods east of Corrales Road along Priestly and Coroval Roads. Earlier this year, Public Works Director Mike Chavez responded to questions from Councillor Mel Knight about installing a bypass sewer line in case more blockages occur in the future. “We  are in the starting block for planning a bypass in case something happens to our main sewer line,” Chaves said. “But we also want to pick up wastewater from the residents that it will serve.”

Villagers have debated for years what kind of sewer system would best serve the community —or rather, what the community could afford or find funding for. Decades ago, rough estimates put the cost for sewering all of Corrales at around $70 million. Virtually everyone agreed that was unlikely to  come our way.

After the decision was made to build a liquids-only wastewater line rather than a much more expensive conventional “big pipe” sewer, the next dispute was the more technical question whether the proposed wastewater line  should accept ground-up solids or just water, leaving solids in septic tanks to be pumped out periodically. After much discussion, in 2012 Village officials rejected the proposal for a grinder-pump system. Now that idea is back.

At the April 13, 2021 Village Council meeting, Public Works Director  Chavez responded to a question from Councillor Stu Murray saying he is exploring the possibility that the existing sewer could be converted to a grinder-pump or vacuum system. “That’s in the works,” Chavez replied. Little related discussion followed at the council meeting, but the vacuum or grinder pump alternatives were under consideration after a sewer line blockage in early November last year. In 2012 while planning was well under way for the liquids-only sewer line, Village officials held intense discussions about whether the system would accommodate grinder-pumps. The Village’s engineering firm, Souder, Miller and Associates, was directed to determine whether the sewer system could operate effectively with grinder pumps replacing septic tanks.

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Village officials wanted to know what the cost would be for homeowners and business owners to connect to the sewer line, and what the Village’s ongoing costs would be to operate and maintain such a system. Then-Mayor Phil Gasteyer said state officials overseeing the project and administering state and federal funds for it, “concur that a grinder pump system is preferable for the Corrales situation.” Left unexplained is why the Souder Miller firm did not recommend and design such a system in the first place.

In fact, during the long process leading up to installation of the sewer main along the east side of Corrales Road from Wagner Lane to an Albuquerque sewage station south of Alameda Boulevard, the Souder Miller project manager advised grinder pumps could not be used, with the possible exception of a few commercial users. Gasteyer said in 2012 that he had been assured by officials in the Environment Department’s Construction Program Bureau, its Liquid Waste Bureau and its Groundwater Quality Bureau that a grinder pump system would not only be possible, but preferable.

Gasteyer said funding already available for the sewer project could probably could have covered any additional costs from switching to grinder pumps. “If the N.M. Environment Department, as the supervisory and funding agency, is satisfied with the modifications to grinder pumps, I am optimistic that the associated costs will be absorbed from the State’s Clean Water Revolving Fund loan and grant,” the mayor said at the time. As designed and engineered by Souder Miller, the Corrales sewer was to be a liquids-only system that would retain existing septic tanks at each home and business in the  community’s commercial district but eliminate leach fields.

Other villagers, including former Mayor Gary Kanin who initiated the sewer project a decade earlier, argued that it should have been a conventional “big pipe” system into which all sewage from homes and businesses flowed. But following Souder Miller’s recommendations and directives from N.M. Environment Department, the six-inch diameter sewer main is now in place. Connection to Albuquerque’s sewage pumping station near Pep Boys on North Coors was accomplished.

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