AV Water officials say it will take at least seven to 10 days to install the equipment to route city water through the company's system

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FARMINGTON — The City Council today approved a long-term contract with AV Water, agreeing to sell the company bulk water for its Crouch Mesa customers.

The rural water system serves more than 6,000 residents and has been under a boil advisory for nearly a month due to failures at its treatment plant. At a morning work session, city councilors finalized a five-year, renewable contract to supply the company through a connection that was established after the Gold King Mine spill. AV Water will remain responsible for distribution and prices.

General Manager Fred Whistle said the contract will allow the company to abandon its aging treatment facility, which is struggling to keep up with the current turbidity levels in the Animas River. The issue has resulted high sediment levels and dirty-looking tap water, prompting the New Mexico Environment Department to impose a boil advisory that has lasted since May 25.

While buying water from the city will address these problems, Crouch Mesa residents will not experience relief immediately.

Whistle said it will take at least seven to 10 days to install the necessary pumps and equipment to route city water through the company's system. Tests will also have to take place before the boil advisory can be lifted, he said.

“I can’t imagine what these residents are going through,” City Councilor Gayla McCulloch said today. “It sounds like it’s going to be another couple weeks before they really get water they can drink and shower with.”

With temperatures soaring into the triple digits, the San Juan County Office of Emergency Management has set up filling stations and showers for affected households.

AV Water users who attended today's  City Council meeting also expressed concerns their water bills would increase under the agreement.

Whistle, however, assured customers their rates will stay the same. The contract charges a $300 monthly base rate, plus $1.99 per 1,000 gallons of water used. He said the company will absorb the cost by reducing expenses and cutting salaries.

“Customers will be paying the same amount, but getting better water,” Whistle said. “I’ll take a pay cut as long we don’t have to deal with that treatment plant.”

City officials clarified rates will be established by AV Water and stressed that the city is not responsible for services beyond the connection point.

That move comes as AV Water draws increased scrutiny from both customers and regulatory agencies.

During recent inspections, the NMED identified 29 potential health hazards at the company's treatment plant. Since 1996, the department has cited the water system with 59 individual violations, including 8 public notice offenses and 15 infractions for the presence of coliform bacteria or E. coli.

NMED spokeswoman Allison Majure said in an email on Monday that an investigation into the company is underway.

Frustrated customers have also started a Facebook group called the Animas Valley Water Protesters. Common complaints include a lack of transparency by the company, as well as high rates and poor water quality. The group plans to hold a meeting on June 28 at Dino's Hideaway and Lounge in Crouch Mesa.

The level of dissatisfaction on display at today's meeting was enough to garner the attention of Mayor Tommy Roberts, who said he's sympathetic to the plight of customers.

“There’s an unstated sentiment for the city to take over the system,” Roberts said. “But the simple answer is that it’s not for sale.”

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

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