Residents urged to conserve water in subdivision east of Bloomfield
FARMINGTON — Many Harvest Gold subdivision residents turned on their faucets Saturday evening to discover there was no water.
Since then, residents have struggled with water outages during the evenings on Monday and Tuesday prompting the San Juan County Office of Emergency Management to post a notice on Facebook urging them to avoid using the water from the AV Water Co. — the company that provides domestic water — for irrigation purposes, which is believed to be contributing to the outages. Residents are being encouraged to use irrigation water from the Bloomfield Irrigation District for outdoor watering, which all subdivision residents have rights to. Residents pay Bloomfield Irrigation District for the ditch water.
Peggy Hogan — a board member of the Apple Orchard Mutual Domestic Water Consumers Association, which was formed to take over the water system in the subdivision — lives beneath the two large water tanks on the hill that overlooks this subdivision east of Bloomfield. The larger of the two tanks was taken out of use last year because it was riddled with holes and rust, causing it to leak. The tank had been plugged with pieces of wood to try to stop the leaks.
This morning, Hogan had water. She decided to take advantage of the situation while she knew it was available and used it to wash her dishes.
AV Water had received insurance money to replace the tank, but, according to information the company gave to the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, which is investigating the company, those funds were spent on the company's other struggling system to connect its Crouch Mesa customers to Farmington's infrastructure, as well as other operational expenses.
Harvest Gold residents now rely on the smaller water tank to store water. Ammon Burton, the Apple Orchard board president, said two pumps are used to get water from the Harvest Gold water treatment plant to the tank. One of the pumps is broken, which means the other pump is working overtime.
As temperatures have increased this spring, Harvest Gold residents began using the water to water their lawns or gardens. The tank emptied, and the pump overheated, tripping a breaker. That meant no water was being pumped to the tank, and residents ran out of water.
After getting permission from AV Water, Burton was able to reset the breakers. He said he understands how to reset the pump because he has built pumps. AV Water attorney Germaine Chappelle said she remained in contact with Burton to ensure the breakers were properly reset. The ultimate goal is to connect the subdivision to Bloomfield infrastructure, which will allow both pumps to be decommissioned, along with the water treatment plant.
Chappelle said she is working with Apple Orchard and other entities to explore ways of obtaining a new 50,000-gallon tank for the subdivision. That would provide for greater water storage and allow the system to meet demand.
"People are going to need to use swamp coolers soon," she said.
Apple Orchard officials hope to take over the system from AV Water. Afterward, the mutual domestic will enter an agreement with the city of Bloomfield and use state funds to construct a connection between the two systems. That connection will allow the mutual domestic to abandon its water treatment plant.
"Bloomfield has been a help," Hogan said. "There's money available for them to help, but how do we get from here to there?"
Until the connection to Bloomfield is built, Burton said residents should ration water to allow the small tank to fill and to prevent the working pump from becoming overused.
The construction is only one of the challenges the newly formed mutual domestic faces.
"Even if (AV Water) handed it to us right now for free, what have we got?" Hogan said, adding that the system cannot support the demand.
Another challenge is setting membership fees. Hogan said the board has heard numbers ranging from $50 to $3,000 for membership fees, although the board is considering fees of between $50 and $100. She said large fees could be a challenge to the subdivision's low-income residents.
"What about the widow who's living here on Social Security?" she said.
Once Apple Orchard takes over the system, it may need to pay for bottled water deliveries to residents until the New Mexico Environment Department lifts a boil-water advisory for the troubled system that has been in place June.
While the board is learning more each day about running a water system, Hogan said the members knew forming a mutual domestic and taking over the system wouldn't be easy.
"We all knew it was a mess walking into it," Hogan said.
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.
Editors Note: This story was changed on April 24 to clarify that residents on the system will have to pay Bloomfield Irrigation District for the ditch water.
TIMELINE: Troubled AV Water Co.
Oct. 2016: AV Water owner: Company 'strapped for cash'