For residents of Jemez Pueblo, solar power may have saved the day.
On July 5, the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD) and the New Mexico Association of Energy Engineers (NMAEE) along with Jemez Pueblo celebrated the success of a solar-powered wastewater treatment system. The NMAEE awarded Jemez Pueblo Gov. James Roger Madalena with the Association’s “Environmental Project of the Year” award for the system, which has helped the pueblo decrease the smell given off by nearby wastewater lagoons while also eliminating the immediate risk of overflow from the lagoons into the Jemez River.
By using what are called solar photovoltaic modules to power the system, the water in the refuse ponds is mixed, allowing all of the water to become oxygenated and used for other purposes, such as irrigating crops, according to NMAEE President Brian Johnson. “The NMAEE gave Jemez Pueblo the award because it was a total win-win situation for the community,” explains Johnson. “The pueblo needed a fairly quick solution to a serious problem and they found it.”
The problem that Johnson refers to is the threat caused by nearly overflowing lagoons which, Johnson says, were “just a few inches away from flooding over and potentially going into the Jemez River.”
Still, with the ever-growing community of Jemez Pueblo, whose population now stands at more than 3,000 people, Johnson admits the treatment system has only bought the pueblo time before a more permanent and costly solution is implemented. Johnson doesn’t have specifics on what this solution will look like but says it could involve the construction of more wastewater ponds.
The EMNRD bought two of the four solar water circulators, which are the key components of the wastewater system, to help ease the burden on Jemez Pueblo. The Pueblo purchased the remaining two while also paying for the training of its residents on how to operate and maintain the system.
Overall, Johnson remains cautiously optimistic. “The system itself is very low-intensity as far as maintenance requirements, and it could be the solution for quite awhile. But the pueblo looks at it as an interim solution because the community continues to grow.”
The EMNRD has also given out several grants related to solar energy in communities throughout New Mexico. The department recently provided a $25,000 grant to the Corrales Community Recreation Center to help it purchase a solar heating system for its outdoor pool, and its “Schools with Sol” program has provided six schools with photovoltaic solar heating systems that will help the schools reduce their utility costs. In addition to these forms of aid, the department also promotes a program that provides tax credits to New Mexicans interested in investing in solar energy for their homes.