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Outcry erupts over Crouch Mesa boil advisory

Brett Berntsen
bberntsen@daily-times.com

FARMINGTON — A testy crowd filled the Farmington Civic Center tonight, as representatives from state regulatory agencies and the AV Water company fielded questions about the Crouch Mesa water crisis.

"We want to know what's in our water," area resident John Livingston told the panel. "What's coming into our homes?"

Officials from the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, AV Water and New Mexico Environment Department face questions from local residents Thursday during a public meeting at the Farmington Civic Center.

Customers of AV Water, which serves about 6,400 people in Crouch Mesa, have been living under a boil advisory and intermittent water shortages for more than a month due to problems at the company's treatment plant. Stephanie Stringer of the New Mexico Environment Department said that AV Water's system continues to produce turbid, or cloudy, water. She said no harmful bacteria such as E. coli have been detected so far, but the high sediment levels continue to present an elevated risk for contamination.

Germaine Chappelle, an attorney for AV Water, said the company is working to fix the problem by establishing a permanent connection to the city of Farmington.

"Our ultimate goal is to decommission the treatment plant so this cannot happen again," she said.

Germaine Chappelle, left, an attorney representing the AV Water company, answers questions on Thursday during a public meeting at the Farmington Civic Center.

She said construction is not expected to be completed until July 15. Stringer added that the boil advisory will remain in effect even after that date as tests are conducted to determine when the water is safe to drink.

The didn't sit well with some members of the crowd, who voiced a barrage of concerns over who will be held responsible for their plight.

Mike Ripperger, the utility division director at the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, said that the PRC has received a total of 74 formal complaints from AV Water customers. He said the PRC has started to look into the company's business practices, but so far, investigators have found no evidence that AV Water has violated any regulations.

The crowd jeered at that statement, prompting the meeting's moderator, San Juan County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter, to step in.

"If we continue talking over each other, we're going to have wrap this up and deal with it in a different way," Carpenter said, urging to the crowd to ask questions in an orderly manner.

Crouch Mesa resident John Livingston asks a question during a meeting with officials of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, AV Water and New Mexico Environment Department on Thursday at the Farmington Civic Center.

Inquiries shifted toward AV Water's competency moving forward.

Bruce Childers, a member of the Crouch Mesa Ratepayers Association, said that the water system has a history of structural issues. He said even with a connection to Farmington, the company's shoddy infrastructure will continue to result in problems such as line breaks and ruptures. Others in the audience asked if the company was going to continue to be allowed to operate in light of the recent crisis.

Ripperger stated that the AV Water will have the opportunity prove it can abide by the state rules and regulations. He said the company appears to be moving as quickly as possible to remedy the situation.

People line up to submit questions for officials of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, AV Water company and the New Mexico Environment Department before a public meeting on Thursday at the Farmington Civic Center.

Carpenter preached patience as the situation plays out.

"There's a process to this," he said.

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