Sediment sparks second boil advisory

Brett Berntsen
Bernie Volz talks about his water filtration system last week at his home in Crouch Mesa during a boil-water advisory. Volz is a customer of the Morningstar Water System, which is owned by the AV Water company.

FARMINGTON – The boil water advisory issued on Friday for customers of AV Water in Crouch Mesa and Bloomfield was in response to turbid water coming from the system's aging treatment plant, company officials said today.

Operations Manager Thomas Barrow said that tests have come back negative for contamination so far, but the company will continue advising their nearly 7,000 customers to boil their drinking water until the results are absolutely certain.

"It's the responsible thing to do," he said.

The alert was issued by the New Mexico Environment Department, after tests showed sediment levels exceeded drinking water standards. It was the second such incident in less than two weeks, coming just days after the lifting of a boil water advisory for Crouch Mesa that lasted nearly a week. That alert was issued out of concern over dirty water as well.

"While turbidity has no health effects, it can interfere with disinfection and cause microbial growth," the department's Spokeswoman Allison Scott Majure said in an email. "We take matters like these very seriously."

Communication issues have tainted both episodes, with customers expressing frustration at the water company's notification system. During the original advisory, AV Water attempted to alert its customers through a reverse 911 call made by the San Juan County Office of Emergency Management. No call went out on Friday, however, and Barrow said he was not even aware of the NMED's alert until later in the weekend. He said he's been rushing to personally call customers and get the word out since.

Mary Brooks, a resident of the Anasazi Estates subdivision, said that a group of water users from her neighborhood have sent a letter to the company requesting a change of protocol during alert situations.

"They didn't tell us how to behave during an emergency situation, or if we can take a shower," she said. "You really feel helpless."

Brooks said she received a call from the water company during the original alert, however speaking this afternoon, she said she was not aware that the boil advisory was back on.

"I'm speechless," she said.

Barrow said the company's emergency response policy includes sending letters to homeowners, issuing alerts through the media and utilizing the county's reverse 911 system. He said the company doesn't have the resources to implement a automated system of its own.

"That would be great, but who’s going to finance it?" he said. "We're a small water company."

Brett Berntsen covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606.