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Latest on Artesia water situation; Town hall meeting set for Thursday evening to get input from residents

The Artesia Recreation Center will host a town hall meeting Thursday night to discuss the water situation. (Mike Smith Photo)

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Artesia residents will be able to get the latest on the water situation from city officials during a town hall meeting at the Artesia Recreation Center at 6 p.m., Thursday.

A boil water alert was issued earlier this month by the state of New Mexico and the city after E. coli was found in a water sample Sept. 14.

The boil water alert was lifted late last week and last Wednesday the Artesia City Council held a special meeting to discuss the water situation.

During the water boil advisory, city personnel provided updates to the state on where the samples were taken and what actions the city of Artesia was taking.

Artesia mayor Phillip Burch advised that eight different water samples from last Tuesday had tested negative for E. coli in the discussion with the city.

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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 its website that most coliform bacteria do not cause disease.

The city is now debating whether to treat the water in the future. City leaders will discuss the matter during a City Council meeting on Oct. 10.

The town hall meeting Thursday will get input from the community on this matter.

During the boil advisory, the city and state said all water intended to be ingested had to be boiled for at least one minute. Artesia Mayor Phillip Burch advised that the watering of lawns, plants or the washing of clothes was safe for residents.

In response to the boil water advisory, some local Artesia restaurants have even come up with a “plan B” to serve bottled water and soft drinks during these notices.

The Artesia Public Schools also closed down during Monday and Tuesday of last week.

While classes resumed as regular on Wednesday, certain precautions remained 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.

The APS food department was also instructed not to serve any food that had to be washed with tap water. The Artesia Head Start program took all of last week off and then went back to regular schedule on Monday.

During a recent school board meeting, Artesia Mayor Phil Burch and Infrastructure Director Byron Landfair briefed the school board of the happenings of the previous weekend.

On Friday morning, the state lifted the advisory. This wasn’t the first time Artesia had been through a boil water alert. One was issued in mid-July after E-coli was found in a water sample.

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.”

Landfair said in the Wednesday meeting that 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 of 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.”

Rodriguez said he encourages the public to attend the town hall meeting.

“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,” he said. “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.”

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