Most San Juan County area septic pumpers are not state certified

Dan Schwartz
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Only two of the 22 septic companies listed in a San Juan County phone book are certified through the state to pump out septic systems, according to officials involved in a recent study that found significant levels of bacteria indicating the presence of human waste in two of the county's rivers.

Davis Plumbing and Mechanical Inc. and DJ's Backhoe Services are the two companies that comply with the New Mexico Environment Department regulation, said Melissa May, a San Juan Soil and Water Conservation District natural resource specialist.

May's group and the San Juan Watershed Group partnered in a two-year study that found the pollution in the San Juan and Animas rivers. The results were presented in late February.

Officials involved in the study have said leaking septic systems and illegal dumping could be pollution sources.

The Environment Department certification requires septic pumpers to show they're familiar with regulations and can properly pump tanks, maintain equipment and prevent pathogens from spreading, among other things. It also requires truck drivers to take an approximately $150 National Association of Wastewater Technicians test, which they can take online.

The environment department created the certification in November 2011.

"Since that time, we've been pretty casual with getting people to comply with that requirement," said Jim Vincent, the department's liquid waste manager. "But in places like Farmington, where you have a serious issue going on, we're going to be more proactive."

Vincent's department has sent the out-of-compliance companies letters alerting them of their status, but he said he hasn't received many responses. He hopes they will be certified by June 15.

If they aren't, he said, his department will begin issuing notices of violation.

"Given the river contamination, this is on our radar now," he said. "We're making this more of a priority, getting these guys into compliance."

Pumping septic tanks is more complicated than many people think, said Annette Davis, co-owner of Davis Plumbing and Mechanical Inc. Many people, don't pump septic tanks completely, leaving sludge or pumping only one of two tanks in the system, she said.

The state's certification ensures that septic pumpers know how to properly do their job, she said.

"We just feel it's important for our drivers to be certified," she said. "And, I mean, it's septic."

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606 and Follow him @dtdschwartz on Twitter.