Four San Juan County septic pumpers still uncertified

Dan Schwartz The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Since May, 19 companies in San Juan County have become certified through the state to pump out septic systems, and the New Mexico Environment Department is working to get the last four to comply.

The department mailed violation notices to uncertified companies on June 29, stating that it would fine them $100 if they couldn't prove their employees were certified. A deadline of July 29 was set.

The department also said it would issue an administrative compliance order to the companies that missed the deadline. Companies in violation of such an order can be fined up to $1,000.

But the department has issued no fines yet, Environmental Health Bureau Chief Jack King said. And he said his employees won't, as long as the companies are making progress.

"We're really going to work to get people into compliance before we pull the trigger on fines," he said.

The department's new deadline for the four uncertified companies is Monday, spokeswoman Allison Scott Majure said. Those companies are Animas Waste & Water, Diaz Septic Service, OE Septic and RL Marcy Enterprises, according to department records.

King said the companies' owners told his staff they will become certified. That requires septic pumpers to complete a $175, six-hour online training course created by the National Association of Wastewater Technicians.

County Operations Officer Mike Stark said the certifications are important, and he's glad the department is taking the steps to seek compliance.

"The county certainly appreciates the environment department's attention to this matter," he said.

Only two of the 23 septic companies in the county were certified in May.

The department created the certification in November 2011. Jim Vincent, the department's liquid waste manager, told The Daily Times that month that the department had been "casual" in enforcing the certification. But he said that enforcing it is more of a priority now because of the results of a study released in February.

The study discovered significant levels of bacteria in the San Juan and Animas rivers that indicates the presence of human feces. Two local groups — the San Juan Soil and Water Conservation District and the San Juan Watershed Group — partnered in the two-year study.

Some officials have said leaking septic systems are to blame, and others point to illegal dumping.

King said the department will periodically test domestic wells and the San Juan and Animas rivers for contamination from the Gold King Mine, which released more than 3 million gallons of water laden with heavy metals into the rivers earlier this month. But the department will also be testing for human fecal contamination, he said.

"We are on this thing," he said, "and we are not going to let this sit."

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606 and Follow him @dtdschwartz on Twitter.