Crouch Mesa water crisis extends past deadline
FARMINGTON — The AV Water company has not met its initial deadline for completing the construction of a pump station to provide Crouch Mesa residents with potable water from the city of Farmington and end a lengthy boil advisory.
About 7,000 customers served by the company's Morningstar and Harvest gold water systems have been living under the boil advisory since May 25, due to treatment plant failures. The situation has sparked public outcry and prompted an emergency order from the New Mexico Environment Department, which gave the company a deadline of July 15 to remedy the situation.
According to a written update issued today from AV Water, work is now scheduled for completion on July 21. AV Water General Manager Fred Whistle declined to comment for this story and referred all questions to the report.
NMED spokeswoman Allison Scott Major said in a email today that the department was informed that AV Water was seeking a deadline extension, but the agency had not received a formal request. She said once the request is received, the NMED's Drinking Water Bureau will determine if the company is in compliance with the emergency order.
Majure said there are potential fines of up to $1,000 per day if the emergency order directives are not met.
In response to the problems at the treatment plant, the company has entered into a contract with the city of Farmington to buy bulk water and distribute it. That plan, however, requires the company to build a new pump station to route water throughout its customer base.
AV Water's failures have drawn scrutiny at the local and state levels. Both the NMED and the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission have launched investigations into the situation. The PRC, which regulates the rates and business practices of utilities, has ordered the company to show why it should not be found in violation of the public utility act and face financial penalties.
“That response has been received by the agency and is presently being evaluated,” PRC spokesman Carlos Padilla said in an email.
Frustrated Crouch Mesa residents have also formed the Animas Valley Water Protesters group on Facebook, urging residents to document their grievances in an effort to explore the possibility of legal action against the company. Group members have posted pictures of water bills received for June. Some residents wrote that they received a discount for receiving undrinkable water, but others stated that they did not.
Ray Padilla, the owner of Dino’s gas station in Crouch Mesa, said his business has suffered from not being able to serve coffee and soft drinks during the boil advisory. Padilla said AV Water officials offered to reimburse him for losses in beverage sales.
“That’s really not the point, though," he said. "Customers are going elsewhere. It’ll be hard to get them back.”
In addition to his concerns about his business, Padilla said he feels sorry for the elderly and disabled Crouch Mesa residents without access to drinking water during the hottest months of the year.
"I really worry about them," he said.
To provide some relief, the San Juan County Office of Emergency Management is continuing to operate 24-hour water fill centers at McGee Park and in front of the Aztec Police station. For more information on the boil advisory, visit the NMED website at env.nm.gov/dwb/avwer.htm.
Brett Berntsen covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606.