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A year later, still no clean water
Boil-water advisory has been in place for 12 months in Harvest Gold subdivision with no end in sight
FARMINGTON — A year after they were warned by state officials that their tap water wasn't clean, many residents of the Harvest Gold subdivision outside of Bloomfield are still afraid to even use the water in their household appliances, much less consume it.
On June 3, 2016, the New Mexico Environment Department issued a boil-water advisory for the Harvest Gold water system because of turbidity issues, as well as the Morningstar water system, which serves the Crouch Mesa area. Both systems are owned by the AV Water Co.
While Crouch Mesa residents now have potable water, residents of the Harvest Gold subdivision say their water is worse now than it was a year ago.
Dusty March and Dawn Schumacher keep several fans running in their house because they don't want to use their swamp cooler. The ceiling of their house shows water damage from the swamp cooler malfunctioning, which they say was caused by the turbid water. March said many of their other appliances have been damaged by the water.
Several gallon jugs labeled "boiled" sat on a table Thursday evening, but March and Schumacher said they have reduced the amount of boiled water they use and are now hauling the majority of their water from another source.
Schumacher said they knew the water was bad when their four dogs refused to drink it.
"I spend at least two hours a day if not four hours a day chasing after water," March said.
That includes driving to McGee Park to fill up containers and haul water back to their house.
"It's devastating because it seems like these poor folks are just positioned for a train wreck," New Mexico Public Regulation Commissioner Valerie Espinoza said.
Residents have been relying on bottled water deliveries, but on Tuesday, they were informed those deliveries would end because AV Water had not paid its bills. In November, the PRC ordered AV Water to deliver bottled water to its Harvest Gold customers. AV Water attorney Germaine Chappelle said the bottled water deliveries were resumed today.
"I don't think we've ever had potable water, honestly," March said, questioning the quality of the water Harvest Gold residents have always received.
He said even before the boil-water advisory was issued last year, the subdivision routinely found itself without water about once a month. When the water service resumed, it would be muddy. A state environment department investigation last year discovered falsified turbidity reports.
"I will never turn on that tap and drink water again," March said. "I don't care if it is Bloomfield water."
Community members formed a mutual domestic water users association known as Apple Orchard to acquire the troubled water system from AV Water. By making it a community-owned water system rather than a privately owned company, the residents would have access to state funds that would allow them to connect to the city of Bloomfield's water system.
But that connection process is expected to take several months and cannot begin until the PRC approves a transfer agreement between AV Water and Apple Orchard.
"I'm sitting on needles and pins waiting for (AV Water and Apple Orchard) to finalize their agreement," said PRC Commissioner Lynda Lovejoy, who represents San Juan County.
She said the PRC, which regulates private utilities like AV Water, is unable to do anything until the agreement is in place.
Apple Orchard board president Ammon Burton said the board will review and possibly sign the transfer agreement this weekend.
Mutual domestics are considered government entities that are beholden to their members. Property owners pay membership fees and receive a vote in mutual domestic elections.
Expenses are already adding up for the mutual domestic before any revenue can be generated. Board members anticipate the water pump at the treatment plant will fail before the connection is complete, and a new pump will cost about $6,000.
Once the transfer takes place, there is state money set aside to help build the connection and repair some of the failing infrastructure. However, that funding will not cover all the expenses.
Apple Orchard likely will set a $1,000 membership fee per meter as a way to address the costs that it will assume along with the system. That fee will be a one-time charge in addition to rates.
"We have to put money in the bank because we know there's going to be problems," Burton said.
The system's lines will need to be flushed once the connection is completed. That will require Apple Orchard to fill and empty the 10,000-gallon storage tank several times. The mutual domestic will pay Bloomfield about $4.50 per 1,000 gallons, including for the water used during the flush.
"Water is not free," board secretary Peggy Hogan said during Tuesday's board meeting. "Not even to flush your toilets."
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.