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Infrastructure remains a problem for Harvest Gold
Long list of repairs needed before troubled water system is fixed
FARMINGTON — Undersized water lines, broken meters, a condemned water storage tank and a failing water treatment plant are among the concerns facing the newly formed Apple Orchard Mutual Domestic Water Consumers Association as it works on a transfer agreement to acquire water infrastructure from the AV Water Co.
Once the transfer occurs, the mutual domestic will have to pay to address those concerns. The amount that it will cost to fix the broken Harvest Gold water system is still unknown. Meanwhile, residents in the Harvest Gold subdivision east of Bloomfield have been on a boil-water advisory and without treated drinking water for a year.
Lynda Lovejoy of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission said the boil-water advisory prompted her to review the certificate of convenience and necessity issued to AV Water last year shortly before the advisory went into effect. The certificate of convenience and necessity is an agreement between the PRC and the private utility to operate the water system under PRC jurisdiction.
Lovejoy said during AV Water's multi-year process of applying for a CCN, there was testimony provided to the PRC about infrastructure problems, including aging pipes and a storage tank that was in poor condition.
"As a commission, I believe we didn't vet all of those things as thoroughly as we should have," she said.
While Lovejoy believes the PRC could have examined the infrastructure problems more carefully before granting the CCN, she said those issues are not unique to AV Water. She said infrastructure throughout the region needs repair, including the ditch that distributes water to the Harvest Gold subdivision.
An estimated $1.16 billion in infrastructure repairs is needed on water systems statewide over the next 20 years, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers infrastructure system report card for 2017.
During a state board of finance meeting earlier this year, Jason Thomas, public works director for the city of Bloomfield, said his town is not interested in taking over the Harvest Gold system because it already has a similar system that needs upgrades. The North Heights subdivision of Bloomfield currently has undersized lines that will need to be replaced, Thomas said.
Each week, the board members of the East Culpepper Flats Domestic Water Consumers Association drive a 2,000-gallon water truck to collect water to fill a 30,000-gallon storage tank. In April, the association, which serves residents in an area between Aztec and La Plata, received state funds to begin construction on eight miles of waterline along N.M. Highway 574. When completed, the waterline will deliver water to the East Culpepper Flats customers and will provide a second source of drinking water to the Upper La Plata Domestic Water Consumers Association.
In other parts of San Juan County, such as the Totah subdivision south of Farmington, residents rely on wells and septic tanks. High water tables have created problems with potential contamination from septic tanks to drinking water wells. While connecting to the city of Farmington is the best option for addressing the potential contamination, funding has not been available to complete the project.
The PRC oversees private utilities like AV Water, but does not oversee other water utilities. Commissioner Valerie Espinoza said the PRC has limited authority to force private companies to fix their water systems. She said the PRC only has the ability to issue fines.
AV Water faces more than $2 million in fines from the PRC so far, an amount that increases each day.
"We've issued all the fines we can," Espinoza said.
AV Water representatives have filed a motion in the New Mexico Supreme Court asking for the fines to be reversed. The company alleges the PRC has acted outside its authority in fining AV Water's owner.
Espinoza said changes in laws and statutes are needed to prevent future cases like the one involving AV Water.
"We need stronger laws," she said. "We need people to just have some compassion for these folks."
She said she has spoken with the governor's office, as well as other elected officials, about options for getting water delivered to the subdivision, but no one has been able to address the issue.
Harvest Gold residents Dusty March and Dawn Schumacher said the PRC needs more authority.
"What good is the PRC if they don't have any authority to enforce their regulations?" Schumacher said.
March said regulators also need to take a closer look at privately owned utilities.
"Don't blindly trust a private entity with a public utility," he said.
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.