Protesters release list of demands for AV Water

Demands include replacing tanks in Harvest Gold water system, resolving billing issues, providing bottled water and connecting water system to Bloomfield's

Hannah Grover
Heather Lamprecht, left, and Stella Padilla yell at passing cars during a protest against AV Water Co. at County Road 350 and 390 in Crouch Mesa in this September 2016 file photo.
  • Customers of AV Water Co.'s Morningstar and Harvest Gold water systems have been under boil water advisories for nearly four months.
  • The advisory was lifted this month for Morningstar customers, but it remains in place for Harvest Gold water users.
  • The New Mexico Environment Department plans to issue an emergency order for the Harvest Gold water system next week.
  • AV Water attorney Germaine Chappelle says several of the protesters' demands have already been met, adding Harvest Gold is nearing compliance with state turbidity requirements.

FARMINGTON — Ever since a boil water advisory was issued for Harvest Gold water system users several months ago, Miriam and Toby Browning said they have been worried about the water's effect on their two children.

When one of their kids developed a rash that their father described "looked like leopard spots," the couple said they suspected the water was to blame.

The Brownings were among those who participated tonight in a protest to raise awareness of the issues AV Water Co. customers have faced. A few dozen people held signs and flags near Dino's Hideaway and Lounge before heading to the Harvest Gold subdivision to deliver bottled water to residents.

Customers of the Morningstar and Harvest Gold water systems, which are both operated by AV Water Co., have been under boil water advisories for nearly four months after tests showed high turbidity levels in the water. The boil water advisory was lifted this month for Morningstar, which serves Crouch Mesa residents. But it remains in effect for Harvest Gold users, who live between Blanco and Bloomfield.

The New Mexico Environment Department is expected to issue an emergency order for the Harvest Gold subdivision next week, said department spokeswoman Allison Scott Majure in an email to The Daily Times tonight. Majure said the order will include directives prioritizing "safe drinking water and the resumption of water service" to Harvest Gold customers.

Unhappy customers call for oversight of AV Water

The Brownings said the boil water advisory has placed a financial strain on their family, forcing them to spend more money on heating the water and buying bottled water. Because of concerns about water quality, Miriam Browning said she has been using chemicals to disinfect dishes even after washing them, and the family now uses paper plates and plastic utensils.

"It puts a stress on our lives that we didn't need at this time," Toby Browning said.

The couple also said they have cut down on their water usage, but their last bill was higher than normal.

"That's probably the hardest part is when you have to pay for it," Miriam Browning said.

Dawn Dullknife-Teller protests on Friday about issues concerning AV Water Co. while holding a "Water is life" sign at the intersection of County Roads 390 and 350 in Crouch Mesa.

Stories like the Brownings' prompted the Animas Valley Water Protesters, a grassroots group of activists and customers, to release a list of seven demands. The group notified the media today and published a list of the demands online.

The group's demands include replacing tanks in the Harvest Gold water system; turning water back on for customers whose water was shut off after they didn't pay disputed bills; resolving customer billing issues; providing bottled water to Harvest Gold customers' houses; connecting the Harvest Gold system to the city of Bloomfield's water system; replacing AV Water employees; and organizing a plan to notify customers.

Germaine Chappelle, an attorney for AV Water said several of these demands, including billing issues, have already been addressed. The company is also working on other demands, such as connecting to Bloomfield’s system.

Chappelle said the Harvest Gold water system is nearing compliance with New Mexico Environment Department's turbidity requirements. She said the turbidity rates are currently 0.367 Nephelometric Turbidity Units, which is a measurement of the size and concentration of particles in the water. The state department requirement for drinking water is 0.3 NTU.

Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, said state and local officials and lawmakers are limited in what they can do to address the problem because AV Water Co. is a private company. Because New Mexico has an anti-donation clause in its state constitution, government entities cannot provide money to assist the company.

"It’s going to cost a heap of money to fix that problem,” Sharer said.

Dawn Johnston and Carlos Romo set up for a protest against AV Water Co. on Friday at County Road 390 and 350 in Crouch Mesa.

The infrastructure that supports the Morningstar and Harvest Gold water systems was built in the 1970s, and AV Water took it over in 2008. Since then, the company has spent more than $875,000 on improvements and maintenance of the system, according to documents provided to the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission. That does not include money the company spent to hook the Morningstar system into the city of Farmington's system. AV Water has also agreed to spend $80,000 or more each year for the next three years on infrastructure improvements.

Sharer said the Public Regulation Commission and the state Environment Department have been working within their capacities to monitor rates and water quality.

“There’s some real hurdles to get over, but that doesn’t mean nobody’s doing anything,” Sharer said.

PRC approves hearing for AV Water Co.

Last week, protesters visited the Harvest Gold water storage tank and released a video of the tank leaking water and holes plugged with wood. Chappelle said that after the video was released, the company stopped using the tank. She added that the tank is fenced off, and protesters trespassed to film the video.

Dinah Vargas, an activist with Burque Media, filmed the video at the water tank. She said the fence around the tank was damaged and after seeing the condition of the water tank, she decided to go through the fence to shoot the video.

"I'll gladly break any law or city ordinance to document the truth," said Vargas while preparing for the protest.

The video caught the attention of San Juan County Commissioner Jack Fortner, who attended tonight's protest to show support for the AV Water customers.

"I don't know of anyone who can watch that and not be shocked," he said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.