Many water systems rely on ties to Farmington

Hannah Grover
  • A boil water advisory was issued in June for two water systems owned by AV Water Co.
  • The boil water advisory for Crouch Mesa was lifted Thursday, but remains in place for Harvest Gold.
  • Connecting with the Farmington system allowed AV Water Co. to meet standards in Crouch Mesa.

FARMINGTON — When Kalee Chivers Grothe heard on Thursday that the boil-water advisory had been lifted from the water system serving her home and the business she manages, she was excited.

A water tank sits above the Harvest Gold subdivision on Friday east of Bloomfield. Residents have been under a boil-water advisory all summer.

Then she began to think of "the big picture." AV Water customers like Grothe have been on a boil-water advisory for months as part of the Morningstar system, and the nearby Harvest Gold subdivision remains on a boil-water advisory.

"It's a little glimmer of hope," she said about the lifting of the advisory.

Soon after hearing that she could stop boiling the water at her house, she thought about the people in Harvest Gold.

AV Water Co. attorney Germaine Chappelle calls the factors that led to the boil-water advisories in two unconnected systems a perfect storm.

Those factors began with a breach in the Bloomfield Irrigation Ditch in May, which flooded the Harvest Gold water treatment plant with sediment and clogged the filters.

Then, in the Morningstar system, a backflow prevention valve at the treatment plant failed. When the valve failed, turbid water entered the drinking water system, Chappelle said. She said the company tried to flush the lines before the water could reach the storage tank. That flushing diminished the amount of water the company had available going into the summer months, when water use is highest and production is lower.

Chappelle said the company had to choose between violating water turbidity standards and not providing customers with water.

Residents of the Harvest Gold subdivision east of Bloomfield are still under a boil-water advisory, though customers of the nearby Morningstar system recently had their advisory lifted.

To help supplement the water for customers, Hydro Pure — a local natural gas technology company —  began hauling truck loads of water to Crouch Mesa for residents.

“Had that not occurred, a lot more people would have been without water,” Chappelle said.

The first boil-water advisory was issued on May 25 for the Morningstar system, which serves Crouch Mesa. The advisory was lifted about one week later. But a few days after that, a second boil-water advisory was issued, and it included both the Morningstar system and the Harvest Gold system.

To solve the issues with water in the Morningstar system, AV Water shuttered its Morningstar water treatment plant and started to purchase water from the city of Farmington. The company is looking at ways to connect Harvest Gold to a different water system, as well. Both the Blanco Mutual Water Users Association and the city of Bloomfield have water systems near the Harvest Gold subdivision. A water storage tank sitting on a hill above the subdivision contains water from the city of Bloomfield that is provided to the Blanco Water Users Association.

Chappelle said AV Water Co.’s treatment plants were built in the 1970s while Farmington and Bloomfield have more modern systems.

“I think customers would be better served if we could connect to their systems,” she said.

That approach often has been used to address water system failures in San Juan County. In 2004, the Blanco Water Users Association was connected to the city of Bloomfield system to solve problems caused by turbidity in the river and an old, shallow well.

Even operators of systems that have not failed are looking at connecting to each other or with municipalities, as those additional connections can provide the systems with a safety net. Millions of dollars have been invested in infrastructure to achieve those connections.

For instance, the North Star Mutual Water Users Association — which serves the area north of Aztec, as well as territory between Aztec and La Plata — has partnered with the Flora Vista Water Users Association for a connectivity project. Through two New Mexico Water Trust Board grants totaling $3.4 million, officials of the two entities began to construct pipes that they hoped would connect the infrastructure between the state line and Flora Vista. The project stalled last year when the two systems fell $450,000 short of completing the connection. Last year, Sen. Steve Neville, R-Aztec, and Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec, included the project in their capital outlay requests, but the funding did not get approved.

In addition to providing a safety net to water systems, connectivity can improve water quality for some systems. After flushing her pipes, Grothe said she noticed improved water quality after the Morningstar system was connected to Farmington. She cited low water pressure and recent billing problems as reasons she is frustrated with the Morningstar system.

Many AV Water customers say they recently received much higher bills than they have in the past. Chappelle attributed those issues to software glitches and problems with estimated bills.

She said the company is working to fix the software problems. She also said Morningstar will determine the actual usage of customers by looking at the previous actual meter reading and the most recent actual meter reading, as well as the time in between meter readings. She said customers who paid after being overbilled will receive credit on their next bill.

After what has happened this summer, Grothe said residents will be more vigilant about their water quality.

"We have all gained a lot of information and a lot of knowledge from all of this," she said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.