Blanco turns down state emergency funds to build a pipeline connecting Harvest Gold to Bloomfield infrastructure

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FARMINGTON — The board of directors of the Blanco Mutual Domestic Water Users Association has voted against becoming an independent operator for the neighboring Harvest Gold water system.

The association sent an email to the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission this week declining to take operational control of the water system. According to the email, the directors had an emergency meeting Monday, and the board voted not to accept the terms and conditions of a PRC order issued last week giving Blanco operational authority. While the PRC issued the order last week, Blanco had to let the PRC know by Tuesday if it was willing to become the independent operator.

In addition to declining to become the independent operator, Blanco has turned down $85,000 in state emergency funds to connect the Harvest Gold infrastructure to the city of Bloomfield's water lines. Blanco has cited potential problems with using public funds on the water system because Harvest Gold is currently owned by the AV Water Co., a private utility.

During its meeting today in Santa Fe, the PRC voted to table a discussion of billing Harvest Gold customers. The meeting was streamed live on the PRC website.

The commission was considering whether to allow AV Water to bill and collect payments for water that is currently under a boil-water advisory. The New Mexico Environment Department issued an advisory for AV Water's two systems, Harvest Gold and Morningstar, in June. The Morningstar system, which serves Crouch Mesa, was removed from the advisory in September.

Commission Chairman Sandy Jones said the question the PRC was debating is simple — whether to allow AV Water to bill customers and collect payment.

He said on one side of the argument, the commission has to consider whether preventing the company from billing would cause AV Water to cease deliveries of bottled water to the Harvest Gold customers. On the other side of the argument, the commission has to consider the value of the water, which is under a boil-water advisory.

Customers currently pay $31.77 for the first 3,000 gallons a month of water used. Jones said it is unlikely customers are using more than 3,000 gallons a month at this time of year because they do not have to water gardens.

Commissioner Valerie Espinoza said she does not think customers should pay for the water. She described it as muddy and said high turbidity levels in the water are damaging customers’ appliances. After saying she would not support billing customers, Espinoza walked out of the room.

Commissioner Lynda Lovejoy suggested tabling the item.

"We can't make a decision," she said. "We can't compromise."

In other business, the PRC unanimously voted to intervene in a district court case regarding AV Water.

Last week, Stonetown Animas Lenders LLC filed for receivership of the AV Water properties. AV Water has defaulted on a loan and owes $2.7 million to Stonetown. Stonetown had offered to exclude the Harvest Gold properties from the receivership if the PRC appointed Blanco as an independent operator. When reached by phone today, Stonetown's attorney Zoe Lees declined to comment.

"I think it’s very important that we intervene," Commissioner Patrick Lyons said.

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

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