EUNICE, N.M. (AP) -- One southeastern New Mexico city is taking another step forward as it looks for an "unlimited" source of water.
The Eunice City Council recently voted to have a Hobbs-based engineering firm continue studying the benefits of building a desalination plant for the community.
As depletion of fresh water from the Ogallala Aquifer continues, the council wants to know the feasibility of a proposed alternative -- desalination of saline or brackish water. The Hobbs News-Sun reported that it could cost about $5.5 million to build a plant and the completion of the engineering study likely will provide a more accurate estimate.
City Manager Jordan Yutzy told the councilors that the engineering work by Pettigrew and Associates will cost about $464,000. State funds are paying for the work.
The engineering firm began the study last summer to determine whether water from underground brackish aquifers can be economically desalinated for human consumption.
In July, Mayor Billy Hobbs voiced excitement about the potential.
"Eunice could become water independent," Hobbs said. "I think it would be a great deal for Eunice and the surrounding area. I hope when the study comes back it will be feasible. They say it's an endless water supply. There is an abundance down there."
The Ogallala Aquifer underlies portions of eight states -- South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. Using the fresh water from the Ogallala are agriculture, commercial industry and residences, with much less replenishing from rainfall or snowmelt.
Below the fresh water aquifer are saline and brackish water supplies that need to be treated, often at high cost, before human consumption.
"The aquifer is good underneath us," Yutzy told the council. "(Pettigrew engineers) have a couple of sites they think will be great for well drilling. One of the main sites they kind of lean towards is near the golf course area."
Yutzy said the next phase will be modeling the community's water system to determine what infrastructure will be needed to bring the water into the city. That includes looking at what size pipes will be needed and potential connection points.
"Then, we'll actually do a test well so we can pull a sample of the water," he said. "They will send it off for analysis to make sure it hasn't been contaminated or what's in it so the system can be designed on the results."
Most of the desalination plants that have come online in the last few decades operate near ocean shores, purifying seawater for human consumption. Seawater is significantly higher in salt concentration than most brackish water found below the surface. That means a plant such as the one envisioned in Eunice could cost less.