The Rio Rancho landfill is expected to reach capacity by 2028, according to Doug Shimic, general manager of Waste Management New Mexico Inc.
During a public meeting Tuesday, Shimic touched on what will happen after that point, as he provided background on the landfill’s operations.
Waste Management has operated the 101-acre landfill for the benefit of the city’s residents since 1985. Shimic said Waste Management strictly adheres to all safety protocols, thereby ensuring the landfill’s continued safe operation and its eventual re-use once it reaches capacity.
Some of those protocols include groundwater monitoring, biennial testing of leachate — water that has passed through layers of waste in a landfill — and a 2-foot clay liner to contain buried waste.
A landfill reaching capacity is not uncommon in the United States or New Mexico. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 1988, there were 7,900 active landfills. By 2009, that number dropped to 1,900.
When local landfills reach capacity, trash can be transported to regional landfills, with the original local facility then serving as a transfer station, holding and sometimes sorting trash until it’s ready to be transported. In the case of the Rio Rancho Landfill, Waste Management could convert it to a transfer station and then transport the city’s trash to the Valencia Regional Landfill and Recycling Facility in Los Lunas, which Waste Management also owns and operates, Shimic said.
Whether or not trash pickup fees would increase for the average resident would depend on several variables, including Valencia’s costs to process the waste and fuel prices at the time.
As to what the landfill could become, the possibilities are fairly open with one exception: The land could not be developed for residential or commercial use. The 101 acres could be turned into a park, a wildlife habitat or simply open space.
However, before the landfill could be re-purposed, it would need to be capped, meaning the ground would need to be covered to ensure that wildlife and people don’t come into contact with any possible contaminant. What material is used for the cap — asphalt, vegetation or a geomembrane, to name just a few — depends on what the landfill is to become.
For example, if the landfill is converted to a park and has little risk of leaking contaminants into the soil, a vegetation cap could be suitable.
Finally, Shimic said Waste Management, and not local government, would be responsible for the safe conversion and operation of the Rio Rancho Landfill for 30 years once it reached capacity.

Maureen Cooke