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New law imposes criminal penalties for lying to NMED
AV Water Co. cited as reason law was needed
FARMINGTON — Nearly two years ago, a New Mexico Environment Department inspection revealed that the AV Water Co. had been providing false water quality readings to the department.
On Wednesday, Gov. Susana Martinez signed a bill that makes it a crime for owners or operators of water systems to knowingly provide false reports and statements to NMED.
In a press release from New Mexico House Democrats, AV Water was highlighted as an example of why the criminal penalties are needed.
Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces, sponsored the bill that imposes criminal penalties for water utility owners and operators who lie to NMED inspectors. The bill passed the House of Representatives by a 65-0 vote and passed the Senate by a 38-1 vote.
“We have seen drinking water crises around the country, and even in areas of our own state," Small said in a press release. "I am pleased that the governor signed my legislation safeguarding clean drinking water for our families and communities so they can continue to thrive. People who are responsible for ensuring our water is safe now cannot lie and get away with it — and that will benefit the entire state for years to come."
While the bill initially called for the offense to be classified as a felony with a prison sentence of up to 18 months, the measure was amended. The amended bill, which was signed into law, would make false statements to the NMED a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor would mean the owner or operator would spend less than a year in prison and could be ordered to pay a fine.
Kalee Chivers-Grothe, an AV Water customer, said she is glad the governor signed the legislation. She said criminal penalties were needed a long time ago.
“We’re talking water,” she said. “We’re talking about life."
While AV Water fired an operator in response to allegations that he had falsified reports to NMED, Chivers-Grothe does not blame the operator. She said the owners of the water system did not give him the tools he needed to do his job, such as a working turbidimeter, a device that measures the cloudiness of the water.
Chivers-Grothe said the operator had family members and friends who drank the water, and she does not think he would knowingly place them at risk.
While she is glad there are now criminal penalties in place, Chivers-Grothe said the law will need to be enforced. NMED and the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission both imposed millions of dollars in fines on AV Water that the company has never paid.
“They can write laws all day long, but if they don’t follow through with them, they do no good,” she said.
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at email@example.com.