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Harvest Gold considers forming mutual domestic

Forming a mutual domestic water users association would allow Harvest Gold to access state funds to fix the water system that has been on a boil water advisory since June

Hannah Grover
hgrover@daily-times.com
  • Officials say there is money available from the state to help the Harvest Gold water system.
  • State money cannot be spent on private property, such as infrastructure owned by AV Water Co.
  • Residents are considering forming a mutual domestic water users association.
  • San Juan County has agreed to be a fiscal agent for Harvest Gold and an AV Water attorney has offered to provide free legal service.
Harvest Gold resident Miriam Browning speaks during a meeting on Tuesday at McGee Park in Farmington about forming a mutual domestic water users association

FARMINGTON — State funding may be available to hook up Harvest Gold residents to Bloomfield's water infrastructure, but that money cannot be spent while the water system is owned by a private entity.

The Harvest Gold water system is owned by AV Water Co. and has been on a boil water advisory since June.

"A lot of people have been working on a resolution, but we don't have one yet," said Stephanie Stringer, bureau chief of the New Mexico Environment Department's Drinking Water Bureau, during a meeting Tuesday at McGee Park.

The state Legislature approved reallocating $500,000 of capital outlay money to help the subdivision, County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter announced at the meeting. Carpenter said he learned the news during a phone call earlier that day with Sen. Steve Neville, R-Farmington.

Tuesday's meeting was aimed at educating residents about forming a mutual domestic water users association. If residents pursue forming a mutual domestic, state funds for fixing the water system would become available.

What is a mutual domestic?

A mutual domestic water users association is a community-based governmental entity that oversees a water system and is regulated by the state environment department.

A mutual domestic would require a long-term commitment from the community, said NMED spokeswoman Allison Scott Majure. But it would also give residents control of the water system and how it is run, she said.

The association is governed by an elected board, which would likely consist of three members. It also employs a general manager, an operator and a bookkeeper.

Back row from left, Megan Marsee, community services coordinator for the New Mexico Environment Department's Drinking Water Bureau, NMED spokeswoman Allison Scott Majure, Bruce Childers, a member of the Crouch Mesa Ratepayers Association, and Annie Maxfield, the NMED's assistant general counsel, speak during a meeting on Tuesday at McGee Park in Farmington about forming a mutual domestic water users association.

How is a mutual domestic formed? 

Germaine Chappelle, attorney for AV Water, has offered to provide free legal services to the new mutual domestic.

"To the extent that they want me, I am absolutely willing and ready to help," Chappelle said when reached by phone today.

To form a mutual domestic, the community would need to draft a certificate of association and file it with the New Mexico Secretary of State before issuing membership certificates and collecting fees.

MORE ON HARVEST GOLD:

Blanco will not take over Harvest Gold's system

Boil-water advisory issued for AV Water systems

County will use funds to connect infrastructure

The community would elect board members to develop a budget and set rates. The board would also develop rules and regulations as well as bylaws. The members would have to vote to approve bylaws.

After the bylaws are approved, the board would hire a certified operator and employees.

At that point, the board would negotiate to have the water system transferred from AV Water to the mutual domestic. The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission would have to approve the transfer.

Only then could the mutual domestic receive state funds.

How would this help Harvest Gold residents?

State funding is the biggest benefit of forming a mutual domestic.

From left, AV Water attorney Germaine Chappelle and Megan Marsee, community services coordinator for the New Mexico Environment Department's Drinking Water Bureau, address Harvest Gold residents during a meeting on Tuesday.

"The mutual domestic will give you a mechanism to come after state funding," Carpenter said during Tuesday's meeting.

Resident Dawn Schumacher said she is upset the community will have to fix the system after a company "basically raped us."

Miriam Browning, another Harvest Gold resident, expressed concerns that the plans for forming a mutual domestic could fall through.

"There's always a bump," Browning said.

After the meeting, Peggy Hogan said she was encouraged to learn that San Juan County has agreed to be a fiscal agent for Harvest Gold and Chappelle has offered to provide free legal service.

Hogan said she was also happy to hear funding was available to get clean water to the subdivision.

"It feels like someone set up the path right in front of us," she said.

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