103 days into one of the longest boil advisories in New Mexico state history, Animas Valley Water users atop Crouch Mesa in Farmington, New Mexicans are angry with the agency that was supposed to be protecting them and their water system.
On June 2, 2016 an Inspection Report by the New Mexico Environment Department’s Drinking Water Bureau, cited Animas Valley Water with 29 deficiencies of the water treatment plant. These ranged from improper treatment of drinking water and failing equipment, no automatic treatment plant shut off in cases of contamination entering the system and a lack of operator knowledge about water treatment processes and key chemical interactions.
Mismanagement of Animas Valley Water’s capital improvement funds (funds that were collected from each customer’s monthly bills for many years for the purpose of paying for repairs) largely contributed to the terrible state of disrepair the treatment plant was in, however this didn’t happen overnight or even in the span of just a couple of years. The New Mexico Environmental Department allowed the water system to fail by failing to properly and routinely inspect the plant, oversee its repairs, operator’s credentials and treatment processes. Its beyond comprehension how the NMED could fail to see the blatant problems with the plant during their 2011 Inspection Report, however the report shows that many of the standard points of inspection were not evaluated.
During the public meeting with the New Mexico Public Regulations Commission and the New Mexico Environmental Department on June 30th at the Farmington Civic Center, angry residents asked how often their water had been tested by the NMED, only to be told routine testing takes place every 3 years. Animas Valley Water Company had been allowed to submit their own testing results to the Drinking Water Bureau. The problem becomes even more apparent when looking at the June 2016 inspection report, citations listed included that of improper record keeping, records not being stored onsite, lack of proper testing equipment including an apparatus to allow point sampling to be done.
The New Mexico Environmental Department allowed a water company to submit its own testing for years even though its operators didn’t have proper training or proper equipment. The NMED’s lack of involvement and oversight with this facility not only allowed it to fail but also allowed the water company to endanger the lives of its customers by pumping unsafe water into their homes.
Long time resident and Animas Valley Water ratepayer Dawn Johnston says she holds the Environmental Department responsible for its part in failing the community here,
” I do not understand how the NMED could put the people of New Mexico at risk by allowing a FOR PROFIT, PRIVATE, company to conduct their own water testing. Of course they are going say the tests came out fine. They don’t want to lose their millions in profits. The trust system that is in place now does not work. Why did NMED not follow up to assure the safety of the residents? NMED has known for years AV Water was out of compliance with the safe drinking water act. Why are our tax dollars going to an agency that is not putting our safety above everything else?”
Residents here got sick, hundreds of them, experiencing things ranging from stomach and intestinal problems, parasites, kidney illnesses, skin rashes and conjunctivitis.
To Date: the NMED has levied fines against the company for failure to correct the situation and notify its customers, however the $145,000 in fines are in no way large enough to pay for the gross criminal negligence committed by this company. Furthermore, who will hold the NMED responsible for its negligence in contributing to the failure of this system? Poisoning people is a crime and until this regulatory agency does their job, holds water companies responsible and liable and are held accountable themselves for failing the people of New Mexico, Animas Valley Water company won’t be the only water utility allowed to poison its paying customers.
The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) Drinking Water Bureau has primacy to implement and enforce the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act and the New Mexico Drinking Water Regulations. The mission of the Drinking Water Bureau is to preserve, protect, and improve New Mexico’s drinking water quality for present and future generations.
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