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high desert. small house.

Day 14 – Utility Questions & Answers

What a day!  I think I got in/out of the car 20 times in the course of the 9 hours we were busy today.  But boy did we find out a lot of stuff!

This morning's breakfast from Nancy's Cafe, was awesome.  Brian had scrambled eggs with chorizo on the side and I had mine mixed in.  The chorizo is fantastic and doesn't contain any sugar.

This morning’s breakfast from Nancy’s Cafe, was awesome. Brian had scrambled eggs with chorizo on the side and I had mine mixed in. The chorizo is fantastic and doesn’t contain any sugar.

Well Estimates

After the auction disappointment and further research on our potential properties, we now know we are most interested in Breezy Boulevard (which is about 10 minutes from town) as well as Highway Wilderness (a lot much closer to town). They differ in many aspects (size, terrain, etc) so we were fairly certain the cost of installing a well and septic system would be different between the two areas.  For example, if nearby wells in an area had to drill to 1000 feet to find water, then the cost is going to be much more than a piece of land that requires only 200 feet.

We spoke to 3-4 well drillers and received some good info.  All of the lots near Breezy Boulevard have had success getting water (except for one lot, which drilled 5 holes to 1000 feet and never found water).  However, most of the wells are 700-800 feet deep.  Most everybody quoted us $20/foot for drilling, so right off the bat, the cost would be $14,000 – $16,000.  Then there would be the cost of the pump, the discharge hose and the electrical control stuff; plus the water treatment system and pressure tank inside the house.  It was kind of an overwhelming bit of information.

We got most of this information yesterday, as we were driving frantically around, researching and preparing for the auction.  Today’s mission was to further investigate these areas and determine if the any plots were low enough that the well could be shallower which might drop the cost considerably.

Water Rights

While enjoying our butter coffee this morning, I decided to browse the events calendar from the local paper.  We were pleasantly surprised to find that there was a water rights presentation happening at 1pm today.   That immediately became part of the day’s schedule so land and well investigations were pushed to later in the afternoon.

Water rights are water usage rights above and beyond water use inside your house (i.e. the privilege to water your lawn, have a swimming pool, irrigate, have a garden, etc).  They are attached to the owner of the land, rather than the land itself.  It’s a seniority system where the oldest owner of water in an area has priority for its use over anybody else in the area.  The job of the NM Office of the State Engineer, who administers water rights in the area, is to make sure those with seniority get their fair share of water before any other ‘juniors’ in the area.  They also make sure people aren’t overusing their share as well as a host of other responsibilities.

If someone has property and water rights, they can sell their land and keep their water rights; taking them with them to their new home.  Alternatively, they can sell their water rights and keep their property.  As this talk was sponsored by a realtor association in Silver City, several realtors were present asking questions about how they can better present a water situation when marketing a home or land.  It doesn’t appear any of the properties we are interested in have water rights attached to the sale but it was an interesting talk and we’re glad we went.  Plus, there were free veggies.  Oh and one odd thing is that you need water rights to do any roof water catchment.

More Municipal Buildings

After the presentation, we headed to the county building to get some questions answered about the properties.  Breezy Boulevard has a neighbor who has already built a home.  That neighbor is in the process of finishing a huge metal workshop which is almost certainly over the line of the property we are interested in.  Question 1 is how is that handled?

Question number 2 was about the lot in town, Highway Wilderness.  Even though my frantic phone calls on Monday had returned the response that NONE of the Silver City properties we were interested in had city utilities, we thought it would be a good idea to double-check this one, which seemed suspiciously within the boundaries of the town water service map.

Question number 3 was about an alternative way to access Highway Wilderness.  It starts right at the highway and has a large valley before you reach any usable flat land.  Building a home there would either require a bridge or a more creative entry point.  As luck would have it, we found a dirt ‘road’ behind the property that would eliminate the need to build a bridge.  Our question was about who owned the ‘road’ and could we use it.

One of our trips today was to the co-op.  Our goal was to find chicken for a good price.  No luck there but we did get grass-fed butter and coconut oil.

One of our trips today was to the co-op. Our goal was to find dog-food chicken for a good price. No luck there but we did get grass-fed butter and coconut oil.


We spoke to Jason at the County Assessor’s Office, used the computers in the County Clerk’s office, went to town hall (which had the pleasant ambiance of a library), were directed to the town hall annex to speak with the chief of sewer and water, were then sent to the Environment Department (yes, in another building, 2-3 miles down the road) and finally to the realtor representing the property.  Here is what we found out –

  • If there is a property encroachment, we could A) sell them the property or B) have them tear down the shed or C) come to some sort of less aggressive compromise.
  • The owners of the house next to Highway Wilderness do not own the driveway road or the easement-like ‘road’ that borders their house and accesses the back of the property we like.  The government officials didn’t really help us with this too much, except to help establish who does not own it.
  • The Highway Wilderness property IS ON TOWN WATER!  Again, it IS ON TOWN WATER!  We would still have to pay the impact fee to connect to it, but that would be less than $3000.  It has some extra components because it is on the highway, so the DOT has to be involved in the permitting process.  But it is vastly more simple and less costly than drilling a well.  The person who told us this was named Robert and he was very helpful and laid back.
  • The Environment Department also had a Robert, who was (you guessed it) helpful and laid back.  Having satisfied our water well questions with the Robert at the Town Hall Annex, we went to visit this Robert for septic system questions.  He gave us the run-down while alternating between playing with a wire brush and leaning back in his chair with his hands behind his head.  Here are the facts:
    • They do not require a perc test out here (!)
    • If you want to, you can have a composting toilet.  You would still need a septic system to handle black water from the sink and grey water from the other stuff.
    • The state has ‘maxxed out’ thecapacity requirements on the leach field.  They previously set the rules based on soil composition – sandy loam would require less of an area for the leach field vs land with clay soil.  Now they just take the worst case scenario as the only option, pretending everybody has highly compact soil, and therefore must make larger leach fields than may be necessary.  Surprising but simple!  In any case, he was able to tell us all of our parameters –
      • The system has to be 5 feet from any property lines.
      • From any dry washes: 25 feet plus the depth of the wash
      • The septic tank must be 7 feet from the house
      • The leach field must be 10 feet from the septic tank
      • We need 16 4ft “infiltrators” (plastic dome things with holes) for our leach field and they can be with a D-box (distribution box with allows you to have more than one line of “infiltrators”) or without a D-box (in a 64ft straight line).
      • Based on a 1 bedroom house, we need a tank with a 750 gallon capacity.  However, since the two providers in town offer a 1250 gallon as the smallest option, we will have to go big.
    • There are no sand/gravel requirements.
  • The trip to the realtor did not produce any answers because they had switched to winter hours and had closed at 4pm.  Our goal with them was to ask how they proposed the buyer access the land over a giant wash as well as inquire about available rentals (they appear to have a monopoly on rentals in the area).

Chickenless but Satisfied

The only dissapointment of the day was that I was completely unsuccessful locating a local chicken supplier.  I previously purchased chicken meat for the dogs from a local wholesaler in CT.  I would buy 40 pound cases for about $24/case.  It was a good deal.  Being a big farm area out here, I figured it would be pretty easy to find a new supplier.

The mini hass avocados are a great deal here!

The mini hass avocados are a great deal here!

Turns out most people farm beef, either grass-fed or other, and a good percentage of the farms carry lamb, some dairy products and turkeys; but nobody does chicken.  The place that raises turkeys is out for now because they are all sold out for Thanksgiving.  However, that particular ranch told me what she does for chicken – she orders from a company out of Oregon that delivers products all over the west.  As long as you have enough people to draw the truck to your area, it’ll deliver.  That’s probably what we’ll end up doing.

In the meantime, we’ll probably get chicken drumsticks from the local grocery, Food Basket.  It is a nice place.  You can get half-size avocados for $0.59 each.  We also located the local Food Co-Op.  There we found grass-fed butter and coconut oil (for our coffee).

The Next Steps

We hope to get the following answers tomorrow –

  • Realtor:  How does one access Highway Wilderness?
  • Excavator:  What is a ballpark figure for the cost of excavation to make some kind of driveway and get the water pipes across the property to the house?
  • What is a ballpark figure for the cost of our simple septic system?
  • Are other areas interesting and worth considering?

A Great End to the Day

We had dinner at Kountry Kitchen.  This time I had the green chili and Brian had the red.  They were SOOOO good; unique, filling and delicious.

Red chili from Kountry Kitchen, a Mexican restaurant.

Red chili from Kountry Kitchen, a Mexican restaurant.

We also went to try out the local gelato place, Alotta Gelato, because I insisted on a mini cheat snack.  I really wanted ice cream but it seemed like a fun plan to try the gelato place.

We learned a lot of things about gelato vs. ice cream; mainly that gelato is delicious but does not satisfy the fat craving like ice cream.  More importantly, after we related our brief background intro, we heard Mitch’s story.

The inside of Alotta Gelato

The inside of Alotta Gelato

Mitch visited Silver City 3 times before deciding to move here.  As he was visiting, he thought it was fascinating that this city could support a large Walmart on one end and an independent toy shop on the other.  He asked a friend in town what the town needed and in the end, opened a gelato shop.  That friend has since passed.  But in her honor, he has kept a list of the what Silver needs, titled, “What This Town Needs is a Good…”

It’s a great list and we’ll take it into consideration when deciding what we want to do.  The entire interaction was positive.  As with the meat lady, who said I should call her if we need any help or have any questions with the land out her way (Gila, NM), Mitch said to call him if we have any questions, and offered his support with starting a local business.

This town is nice.  Also, the McDonald’s keeps giving us extra goods on our bunless burgers – tomato, lettuce, swiss cheese.  So nice.  Tonight’s McDonald’s server was also named Robert.


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