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Artesia city officials begin discussing water treatment options; Meeting set for Oct. 10 to talk about contamination

Artesia Mayor Phillip Burch speaks to local Artesians on how he, along with members of the Artesia City Council, plans to tackle the city’s water supply to avoid another E. coli contamination at Artesia City Hall Wednesday evening. (Trevier Gonzalez Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

Months ago, a clean water test in Artesia would bring about a sigh of relief, but this time, city officials are working to avoid another contamination following last week’s positive test for fecal coliform bacteria.

On Sept. 14, E. coli was found within the city’s water supply, resulting in another boil water advisory being implemented by the state Saturday.

The advisory caused all schools within the Artesia Public School District to close, as well as a financial hit to local businesses.

While classes resumed as regular on Wednesday, certain precautions remain active, such as distributing water bottles to students, faculty and staff and using disposable food containers for lunch to avoid the use of tap water.

According to the Artesia Public School District’s website, these precautions are to be followed through Friday or longer if the boil advisory remains in effect.

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In a meeting open to the public at City Hall, Artesia mayor Phillip Burch advised that eight different water samples from Tuesday tested negative for E. coli.

Instead, total coliforms were detected. According to the New York Department of Health, this group of bacteria, which can be found in both soil and water, is influenced by surface water and human/animal waste. The department lists on their website that most coliform bacteria do not cause disease.

The mayor added that the total coliforms do not pose any threats to the Artesian community; that it could simply be a result of having “soil or dirt in the line.”

Burch said the Artesia Water Department has been “on top of” responding to the city’s most recent E. coli discovery. Burch said from a state perspective, the city has been in communication with the Drinking Water Bureau of the New Mexico Environment Department.

The main topic the mayor brought to the table, however, was the future direction of Artesia’s water supply. Burch said that on Oct. 10, the city as a whole would begin considering its options for the next step in avoiding another E. coli outbreak in the city’s drinking water.

This began the preliminary discussion of whether or not the city should treat its water with chemicals.

Community members voiced their opinion from multiple fronts. While some interpreted the inclusion of chemicals as a “Band-Aid” being placed over the real problem — finding the source of the contamination —  others voiced that something needed to be done.

Multiple Artesians also raised the question of why the city was not looking for the exact source of the E. coli, including the city’s multiple wells.

“We feel comfortable saying our wells are not the source,” Burch replied.

Burch then stated that all Artesian wells tested negative for the bacteria.

Even though the water within Artesia moves within a closed system, he voiced the struggle in not being able to specifically identify a source.

Burch said the positive tests for E. coli have never been in the same place.

The mayor then introduced the idea of working to identify an engineering firm that could help the city explore options as to what would best suit the city of Artesia.

As some displayed discontent after the potential for chlorinating water, noting the potential damage it could do to nearby metals within the city, the suggestion of using MIOX was raised by a local resident.

According to the company’s website, MIOX is the technical and market leader in on-site chemical generators for water disinfection that provides drinking water treatment for small communities to cities of 10 million people.

MIOX Corporation’s headquarters is located in Albuquerque.

While the up-front costs are higher in comparison to chlorine treatment, the long-term financial effect of using MIOX would essentially pay for itself, the resident explained.

While the mayor explained that chlorine is the accepted method of treatment, he added that there have been cases of E. coli being found in chlorinated water, stating that the chlorine option would not be a “cure-all.”

Byron Landfair, infrastructure director for the city of Artesia, said the next step is to pick a system that best fits the city.

“Whether it’s chlorine, MIOX or whatever other system that we may look at,” he said, “the first decision is to pick the system we want to use. The second decision is (finding out) how it fits into the design. We have the engineering firms go back and research all of the different forms of doing it, and make a recommendation to what is best for this community.”

Raul Rodriguez, a member Artesia’s city council, made the closing statement to the hour-long meeting.

“I understand the frustrations that are out there,” Rodriguez said. “But you’ve got to understand that we’re trying to resolve the issue. In looking at this from a personal standpoint, we could be a lot worse off. We could be with the hurricane Harvey, Irma, Jose – where there’s really devastation.

“To some of us in Artesia, this E. coli is a devastation, because we’ve never had this issue – we’ve never had this problem. To be what we call ‘a city of champions’  – we need to work together.

“We as a council don’t have the answer, we’re not experts – we’re not scientists, we’re not biologists, we’re not the EPA or the Drinking Water Bureau – we only answer the questions according to the information that we get. So we ask the community to support us – to help us.

“We’re going to have a big decision to make on Oct. 10 – we’re going to have a town hall meeting. I encourage you. I would like to see 200 to 300 people there. Let’s hear their perspective, let’s hear the pros and the cons. We are going to be faced with a big decision, and we need the support, we need your input. The negativity just tears the community apart.”

As Rodriguez neared the end of his closing remarks, he said, “Pray for us.”

“Keep us in mind that we have a big decision to make,” Rodriguez said. “This is not something that’s for the moment that we’re going to come up with a resolution – this is going to take some time.”

Multimedia-Crime reporter Trevier Gonzalez can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.

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