Officials: Source of Cannon water contamination unknown

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks Water tested on Cannon Air Force Base Wednesday was found to have unsafe levels of E.coli. The base has its own water system.

By Liliana Castillo: CNJ Staff Writer

The New Mexico Environment Department on Wednesday issued a “boil water advisory” for Cannon Air Force Base and Chavez West Housing.

The NMED said the advisory only applies to the drinking water at the base and does not extend to any of the other surrounding water systems.

Base public affairs officials said water tested Wednesday at the Landing Zone was contaminated with E.coli.

A cause of contamination has not been determined, said Mike Huber, compliance operations manager for NMED’s drinking water bureau.

“We don’t know the root cause of the contamination at this point,” Huber said. “With these situations, it’s tough to pinpoint the causes.”

Huber said drinking water wells tested negative, which means, “we can tell the source is not the aquifer.”

Retired Eastern New Mexico University microbiologist Robert Taylor said if the groundwater isn’t contaminated, the problem comes from the waste getting into the system after the water came to the surface.

“There’s all sorts of probabilities for it,” he said, adding that he couldn’t guess the exact source.

Taylor said E.coli indicates the water has been contaminated by human or animal waste, which can carry a number of diseases. Man is the worst offender for E.coli contamination, but not the only one, he said.

One or two dangerous strains of E.coli exist, Taylor said, but they are almost never found in water.

Public affairs officials said the engineering and medical groups on base are working on the issue by increasing chlorine levels throughout the water distribution system.

Updated sampling results are expected by close of business Friday, according to public affairs.

The advisory tells customers to boil water for five minutes before drinking, cooking, dishwashing and bathing. The advisory will remain in effect until two consecutive samples from the areas read as clean. Huber said tests are done on a monthly basis, but are conducted roughly every 24 hours when an advisory is in place.

Huber said the base has been cooperative and he’s optimistic the advisory could be lifted as soon as Friday afternoon.

Clovis Public Works Director Clint Bunch said the base has its own waste water treatment plant. The city treats water systems that are inside city limits, Bunch said.

Staff writers Argen Duncan and Kevin Wilson contributed to this report.