Crouch Mesa water crisis continues through weekend

The New Mexico Environment Department and the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission will hold a meeting June 30 to hear concerns from the public about AV Water

Brett Berntsen
Margo Kaiser, of Crouch Mesa, gets water on June 21, 2016, from a filling station at McGee Park in Farmington. The San Juan County Office of Emergency Management has set up the station for customers of AV Water who have been until a boil advisory for about a month.
  • AV Water is still waiting for equipment to arrive that will allow it to hook up to the city's water system.
  • NMED has issued an Emergency Order that charges the company a $1,000 per day if it does not improve quickly.
  • Frustrated customers have also formed a Facebook group called the Animas Valley Water Protesters.
  • The San Juan County Office of Emergency Management has around-the-clock water filling stations.

FARMINGTON — The Crouch Mesa water crisis will continue through the weekend, as the AV Water company waits for equipment to arrive that will allow it to restore drinking water to more than 6,000 customers.

The water system has been under a boil advisory for about a month, due to problems at its aging treatment facility. On Tuesday, the company entered a contract with the city of Farmington to purchase water and distribute it to its customers. A connection currently exists between the two systems, but the company doesn't have adequate pumping equipment to route water through its entire service base.

Fred Whistle, AV Water's General Manager, said the company is attempting to install a temporary pump within a week. Establishing a permanent solution, however, will take another two or three weeks, he said. Once construction is complete, it will take additional time to carry out tests to clear the water for drinking.

The lengthy crisis has drawn criticism from customers and regulators alike, especially with continued high temperatures. To prompt a faster response, the New Mexico Environment Department has issued an Emergency Order, which charges AV Water a $1,000-per-day fine if the company does not improve in a timely manner.

According to a press release issued on Friday, both the NMED and the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission are investigating AV Water. The state agencies will hold a meeting on June 30 to hear concerns from the public. The meeting will take place at 6 p.m. at the Farmington Civic Center, 200 W. Arrington St.

Frustrated customers have also formed a Facebook group called the Animas Valley Water Protesters. The group plans to meet on June 28 at Dino's Hideaway Lounge, 405 County Road 390 in Farmington.

A common concern expressed by water users has been a lack of notification and updates from the company. Customers have also expressed reservations toward paying for water they can't drink.

A  sign for the Animas Valley Land and Water Co. building is pictured on June 13 in Crouch Mesa.

Whistle said the company has contracted with an outside business to provide alerts through phone calls and emails. Whistle said he's suggested to AV Water's owners that customers should see a reduction in their bills. He said any discount would be spread out over multiple months.

AV Water is owned by a Chicago-based company. Whistle said the owners have been responsive by phone, but have not come to Farmington in person.

As the boil advisory continues, the San Juan County Office of Emergency Management has established free, around-the-clock water filling stations for Crouch Mesa residents at McGee Park and in the city of Aztec. Showers are also available at McGee Park from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m., and at the San Juan College Health and Human Performance Center. The HHPC is open from Monday through Saturday. Hours are listed on the college's website.

Late Friday, the county Office of Emergency Management issued a press release from AV Water asking customers to conserve water. It asks that they use the filling station water to flush toilets and do dishes and not to use water from its system to water lawns or fill pools.

It also suggests that customers "use the same bath water for more than one person" and do their laundry at laundromats.

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