Officials looks for a solution to water crisis

Bloomfield and the Public Regulation Commission are looking for ways to secure funding for a project connecting Harvest Gold to city infrastructure.

Hannah Grover
A water tank as seen above the Harvest Gold subdivision on Sept. 2, east of Bloomfield.

FARMINGTON — A connection to the city of Bloomfield infrastructure may be the solution to getting residents of the Harvest Gold subdivision clean water, but questions and concerns surround a proposed project that would join the two water systems, which are currently separated by a ditch.

Bloomfield city manager Eric Strahl said connecting the system to Bloomfield's will require building a pump station and other infrastructure.

"The question becomes who's going to pay for it because the city of Bloomfield isn't flushed with money," he said.

Strahl said discussions with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission and the New Mexico Environment Department led to a proposed solution — either the PRC or the city of Bloomfield would apply for emergency funding from a state board of finance. The board of finance previously approved a similar request from Blanco Mutual Water Users Association to build a connection from Bloomfield to Harvest Gold, but Blanco declined the funding and backed out of the project in January.

During a PRC meeting today  in Santa Fe, chief of staff Ernest Archuleta presented a draft resolution regarding an application for the emergency funding. The resolution included a joint powers agreement with the city of Bloomfield.

The PRC voted 3-2 against the resolution, but will likely reconsider it next week after commissioners have the opportunity to review it and learn about potential liabilities and how the funds could be spent. When the PRC meets next week, it will also discuss fines levied against AV Water and its owners and billing issues. The PRC meets at 9:30 a.m. Wednesdays in Santa Fe. The meetings are streamed live on the PRC website.

If the commission chooses to pursue the funding, the state board of finance will consider the application on Feb. 21.

Strahl said once the different agencies involved sort out the details of who should apply for funding and what it will cost to build the infrastructure required for the connection, the city of Bloomfield will be able to move forward and decide if it makes sense to supply the subdivision with water.

He said there needs to be an entity in place to operate the Harvest Gold water system that can ensure the city of Bloomfield receives payments for the water it supplies.

Currently, the Harvest Gold water system is owned by AV Water Co. It is one of two water systems the company owns. Last month, a judge approved Stonetown Animas Lenders LLC's petition for receivership of AV Water assets. The petition granted Stonetown's receiver the ability to operate and collect revenue from the Morningstar water system, which serves Crouch Mesa, however it did not give the receiver the operational authority over the Harvest Gold system. AV Water remains in control of the Harvest Gold system, however company officials have said the company is struggling financially.

And Strahl said the Harvest Gold infrastructure may not be in good condition. He said whoever takes the system will have to pay to fix the infrastructure and could face problems with the New Mexico Environment Department. Because of those concerns, Strahl said the city of Bloomfield is not interested in acquiring the water system.

During the PRC meeting today, Commissioners Lynda Lovejoy and Patrick Lyons voted in favor of the resolution to apply for funding despite concerns that the PRC does not have the jurisdiction to act as an operational authority over a water utility and that it could cause liabilities for the commission, the commissioners and the PRC employees.

"It's been eight months now that Harvest Gold customers have been boiling water and that's very concerning," Lovejoy said when the resolution was presented to the commission.

She said her main goal is getting the residents clean, potable water.

"We've got to try anything and everything at this point," Lovejoy said.

While commissioners Cynthia Hall and Valerie Espinoza initially voiced support of the resolution, both of them withdrew their support due to concerns about liability.

However, Espinoza appeared sympathetic to the residents' needs. "These people just need water," she said.

She added that she does not want to be personally liable for problems that may occur on the Harvest Gold system.

The ongoing boil water advisory was also a topic of discussion Tuesday at a county commission meeting. Following the meeting, county executive officer Kim Carpenter and the San Juan County Office of Emergency Management Manager Mike Mestas said the county has done what it can to help the residents, including providing places where residents can take showers and get water.

"We don't have the jurisdiction to be able to step in and take on something like this," Carpenter said.

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