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Contaminated water found near FLETC; Artesia and Morningside remain under water boil advisory

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A water boil advisory in Artesia was prompted after bacteriological contamination was found in the city’s water system near the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, says a state Environment Department official.

The water boil advisory throughout all of Artesia and nearby Morningside will remain in effect throughout the end of the work week as chlorine is introduced into Artesia’s water system, said Brandi Garcia, the southern area supervisor of the New Mexico Environment Department’s Drinking Water Bureau.
“It’s the north side of town that shows the presence of E. coli and coliforms,” Garcia said Wednesday. “The initial area was around FLETC. From there, they’re just taking multiple samples around town. It has been confirmed E. coli in the FLETC area and also in Morningside.”
Morningside is an unincorporated community on the northern border of Artesia, west of U.S. Route 285. Morningside receives its drinking water from the Artesia municipal water system, which is a public water system that serves about 14,000 people. The Morningside Water Users Cooperative serves 358 people. Both public water systems are in northern Eddy County.
The boil water advisory was extended to the Morningside Water Users Cooperative since the cooperative receives all of its water from Artesia.
“Morningside is its own drinking water system, but it is 100 percent maintained by Artesia,” Garcia said. “So while it is its own drinking water system, 100 percent of the water comes from Artesia and the operations of the area are done by Artesia also.”
The water boil advisory does not extend to the Artesia Rural Water Cooperative or any other surrounding water systems.
The Artesia Water Department announced a water boil advisory Saturday after fecal coliform, or E. coli bacteria, were found in the water supply. The bacteria can make people sick and are a concern for people with weakened immune systems.
The New Mexico Environment Department issued the water boil advisory Saturday after bacteriological contamination was detected in repeat drinking water samples from Artesia’s water distribution system. The NMED required Artesia and Morningside to notify their water consumers of the contamination findings.
The NMED advised residents to drink bottled water or to boil water for one minute before drinking, cooking, washing fruits and vegetables, feeding a baby, brushing teeth, preparing drinks, making ice and providing drinking water for pets. Boiling kills bacteria and other organisms in the water.
No water problems have been reported in Roswell. While Roswell and Artesia share the same aquifer, there are no pipes connecting the water systems of the two cities. Additionally, E. coli and fecal coliform form in water systems, not aquifers, Garcia said.
Art Torrez, Roswell’s utilities director, said earlier this week that Roswell’s water is as safe as ever to drink.
“We run 50 samples a month,” Torrez said. “They’re all over the city. Some are homes, some are businesses, some are schools, some are all over. Not only do we sample for bacteriological, we sample for chemicals.”
Torrez said there shouldn’t be any fecal or E. coli contamination in the city water wells because they vary from 300 to 500 feet in depth, and, in theory, there shouldn’t be any contamination that deep. As a precaution, Torrez said Roswell’s water system is running higher than normal concentrations of chlorine.
The Artesia Water Department said it is switching to an alternate drinking water source, and increasing sampling for coliform bacteria to determine the source of the contamination. The Artesia Water Department said in a drinking water warning posted on the city’s website Saturday that it anticipated resolving the problem within a week.
“There’s no guarantee,” Garcia said. “It usually lasts about a week, but it all depends on the sampling and the results for that. We won’t lift the boil water order until they have two consecutive days of no bacteria in their distribution.”

Garcia said the water contamination found Saturday was discovered after a routine sampling.
“Artesia routinely collects 15 bacteriological samples per month,” she said. “That’s just their normal schedule. They collect 15 a month, but they cannot collect them all at once, they have to split it up.”
Garcia said water sampling in Artesia has been increased since the contaminated water was found. She said samples taken from two consecutive days must indicate no bacteria is present before the water boil advisory will be lifted. Garcia said as of Wednesday afternoon, Artesia has not had a single day since Saturday when no bacteria was found.
“They’ve had none at this point,” she said. “We don’t have the sample results for samples that they took (Tuesday) because they take 24 hours. It takes 24 hours to analyze those samples.”
Therefore, the earliest the water boil could be lifted is Friday.
”Again, they have to have two consecutive days of no type of bacteria, coliform of E. coli,” Garcia said.
The Artesia Water Department said bacterial contamination can occur when increased runoff enters the drinking water source, such as following heavy rains. It can also happen due to a break in the distribution system pipes or because of a failure in the water treatment process.
Garcia said the Artesia Water Department introduced chlorine into the city water system Tuesday night.
“They have started introducing chlorine into the system, because up to this point, Artesia is a non-chlorinated system,” she said. “(Tuesday) night, they introduced it into their storage tanks and they’re running it into distribution and the chlorine will disinfect all the bacteria that’s in there. That’s their hope, anyways.”
Fecal coliforms and E. coli are bacteria whose presence indicate that the water may be contaminated with human or animal wastes. Microbes in these wastes can cause diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches and other symptoms. They may pose a special health risk for infants, young children and people with severely compromised immune systems.
The NMED said the presence of E. coli in water indicates that the water may have been in contact with sewage or animal wastes, and could contain disease-causing organisms. The NMED said most strains of E. coli are harmless and live in the intestines of healthy humans and animals. However, a positive test for E. coli in the drinking water supply may indicate the presence of dangerous strains of E. coli or other disease-causing organisms.
“These types of organisms may cause severe gastrointestinal illness and, in rare cases, death,” states a NMED news release. “Children, the elderly and immuno-compromised individuals are at an increased risk for illness.”
So far, there have been no known illnesses related to Artesia’s water problems.
“Not that I have heard of,” Garcia said.
The impact of the water contamination on operations at FLETC was unclear. A spokesperson for FLETC could not be reached Wednesday.
Interim editor Jeff Tucker can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 303, or at editor@rdrnews.com.

 

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