AV Water Co. GM defends company during hearing

Hannah Grover

AZTEC — An AV Water Co. official defended his embattled company during a Public Regulation Commission meeting today at the San Juan County Commission chambers, though he acknowledged many of its shortcomings in providing potable water to customers.

AV Water Co. customers from the Harvest Gold and Morning Star communities listen during a meeting of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission Wednesday at the San Juan County Commission chamber.
Administration Building in Aztec.

The PRC heard comments about the system as part of its investigation into potential fines for the water company.

The company operates two systems in San Juan County – the Morningstar system that serves Crouch Mesa and the Harvest Gold system that serves residents of the Harvest Gold subdivision east of Bloomfield. The two systems were issued boil-water advisories on June 3 after a surprise New Mexico Environment Department inspection. The Morningstar system’s boil water advisory was lifted Sept. 1, but it remains in effect for the Harvest Gold system.

AV Water General Manager Fred Whistle said customer complaints prompted him to visit the Morningstar water treatment system in May. An operator there told him a valve was not working.

“He couldn’t tell us how long it had been since it had been working,” Whistle said.

New Mexico Public Regulation Commission members Valarie Espinoza, left, Sandy Jones and Karen Montoya inspect sludge gathered by AV Water Co. customer Roberta DeField's water system, Wednesday during a meeting in Aztec.

That led to a boil-water advisory for the Morningstar system issued on May 25. The advisory was lifted June 1 and reinstated June 3.

During the boil-water advisory, one Crouch Mesa subdivision ran out of water, and HydroPure, a local company that provides water to natural gas companies, hauled water to the residents for about a week. HydroPure’s owner said during the hearing that the company took out a loan to provide the water and has not been paid by the AV Water Co. for its service. Other contractors and engineers also voiced complaints today that they had not been paid.

Commissioner Sandy Jones chided Whistle and AV Water attorney Germaine Chappelle for not following PRC orders to hang notices of the hearing on the doors of customers.

“From where I sit and the answers that you give don’t indicate to me that you were very worried about what’s been going on.” Jones said to Whistle.

But Whistle defended his management of the company.

“The Morningstar water system is in better shape today than it was when I started,” he said.

Harvest Gold resident Paulina Young addresses members of New Mexico Public Regulation Commission Wednesday during a meeting at the San Juan County Commission chamber.

He acknowledged the Harvest Gold system is not in better shape, but he said the company is working to negotiate a sale to the system to the Blanco Mutual Domestic Water Users Association. If Blanco takes over the system, “Harvest Gold will be in better shape than it ever has been,” Whistle said.

Whistle said he believes customers should be reimbursed for buying bottled water, as well as damage the highly turbid water caused their systems. He urged the PRC to spread the reimbursement out over a year.

During the public comment period at the beginning of the meeting, dozens of customers told commissioners the water had made them sick and expressed concerns about the water they are receiving now.

Dawn Schumacher, who has lived in Harvest Gold for 14 years, said the problems with the system predate the boil-water advisory.

“The water service that we’ve had that entire time is just awful,” she said.

She said the subdivision has water outages about once a month, and even when there is water, it isn’t always clean.

“You never know what it’s going to look like when it comes out of the tap,” she said.

AV Water company customer Bernie Volz addresses members of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission Wednesday during a meeting at the San Juan County Commission chamber.

Morningstar resident Jose Nuñez said he and his sister have had intestinal problems. While a doctor told Nunez his illness was likely the result of food poisoning, he believes the water caused the issues because many of his neighbors have reported similar symptoms.

“Every time we take a shower, we get real nervous,” Nunez said.

Many other customers told commissioners they have experienced stomach pain, diarrhea and vomiting or rashes.

Mary Trujillo said her daughters were sick this summer.

“I can’t say it’s from the water, but, man, it’s sure happening to a lot of people,” she said.

Stephanie Stringer, bureau chief of the NMED’s drinking water bureau, said high turbidity can correlate with intestinal issues but the reports of rashes are not something associated with high turbidity.

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