Web site tracks water quality

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

More than half of the public drinking water systems in Curry County have been cited by the New Mexico Environment Department for drinking water violations, according to a new online drinking water database.

Fifteen public water providers were cited by the state since 1993 for higher than established contaminant levels, most commonly involving coliform, nitrate, lead and copper, according to information compiled in a link on the New Mexico Environment Department Web site.

Repeated citations among some Curry water systems are common, the database shows, but local and state officials said consumers should not be alarmed, unless they receive notification otherwise.

Water system operators are required to notify consumers when water content does not comply with federal standards, said Alan Sena, a hydrologist at the state Environment Department’s Clovis Bureau. In such cases, directions for safe water use, such as boiling requirements for drinking water, are given to affected consumers, Sena said.

“I drink the water all the time straight from the tap, without treatment. We are probably better off than most counties in New Mexico as far as water quality,” Sena said.

He said the New Mexico American Water Co., which supplies 31,000 Clovis residents with water, is one of the best water suppliers in the state. The company has been cited twice in the last 12 years for water quality problems.
New Mexico American Water Co. officials could not be reached for comment.

City Manager Joe Thomas said city residents have no reason to be alarmed about the quality of their water supply.
Environment Department Communications Director Adam Rankin said all drinking water contains some contaminants.
An independent lab tests public water systems for hundreds of contaminants routinely, he said.

Rankin said New Mexico water supplies are naturally high in mineral content because groundwater is the chief source of water, and there are several fields of volcanic activity in the state.

In concentrated forms, contaminants found in some Curry water — such as nitrate, lead, copper and some types of coliform — can cause serious health effects, especially among infants and young children, ranging from diarrhea to red blood cell and organ damage, depending upon the contaminant, according to several Web sites. Due to high fluoride levels in local water, some area doctors go as far as to recommend pregnant women and infants not drink it; others advise diluting a cup of drinking water with a cup of bottled water for infants. Sena said he does the latter for his young children; he said fluoride levels in local water are two points away from reaching federally set limits.

Some Curry residents simply avoid drinking the water available at their homes.

“I drink bottled water,” said Sam’s Mobile Home Park resident Angelina Morris.

She has four children under the age of 7. When she received notification in 2003 that the water system for the mobile park contained unusual levels of nitrate, she said she and her children began drinking bottled water instead of tap water. Morris, a three-year resident of the park, said she is not aware of water-related health problems among herself, her children, or any of her neighbors, but she doesn’t want to risk anything, she said, with a glance down at her 5-year-old, light-haired son.

The mobile park no longer uses the nitrate contaminated well, and now all residential water needs are filled through the use of a second park-owned well, said Sam’s Mobile Home Park Manager Larry Hill.

Municipal and industrial wastewater, septic tanks, feed lot discharges, and animal wastes are common non-natural culprits of nitrate entry into bodies of water, according to several Web sites. Hill said large amounts of cattle do roam near the mobile park, but he did not directly link the bovine presence to nitrate levels.

Other mobile home parks in the area also have frequent water quality problems. Those problems are generally caused by abnormal levels of coliform — a bacteria group — in the water. Nationwide, coliform health-based standards are most frequently violated, according to a 2003 National Public Water Systems Compliance Report conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency.

However, Sena said coliform in water, generally traceable to the presence of animal and human feces, is not immediate cause for worry.

“Bacteria is everywhere. Your desk probably harbors several types of bacteria, your hands hundreds,” Sena said.
Coliform tests, more than anything, are used to indicate whether or not E.coli, a harmful type of bacteria, is present, he said.

NMED officials said bacterial water violations are and can be quickly remedied through chlorine flushes.

The newly provided online drinking water database includes test results for every drinking water contaminant measured in the state since 1993 and is updated every two weeks, according to a NMED press release distributed in mid-November when the water information was initially posted online.

It was made available online to enable consumers to “be more directly involved in the monitoring of their drinking water,” said NMED Secretary Ron Curry, in that same press release.

On the Web
• To view results for Curry or any other New Mexico county, visit http://www.nmenv.state.nm.us/. Click on the Drinking Water Watch link located on the right side of the home page.