Portales Water Supply Notice: Questions and Answers

Many residents in the Portales area have several questions and concerns after receiving a vaguely worded notice in the month of January that discusses deficiencies in Portales’s water supply.

This is a concern to many ENMU students, whether they live on campus or off campus. One student, Manuel Perez, felt that city should have been notified sooner about these deficiencies.

“[The letter] creates questions and concerns pertaining to the timeline of what happened.”

When asked whether or not he drank the water in Portales, Perez responded: “No. I don’t use it for cooking either because I do not feel that it is safe to consume. This letter confirms my concerns about the quality of the drinking water in the area.”

The January notice lists that there are 25 “significant deficiencies” within the water supply system and warns that residents should seek medical attention if they experience any symptoms from possible contaminants such as vomiting or diarrhea. The letter also states that the elderly, infants, and pregnant women should take the notice more seriously due to being at a greater risk.

City of Portales Public Works Director John DeSha shed light on the notice, hoping to make its contents clearer to Portales residents.

“The letter we sent out to our customers is a form letter from the New Mexico Environment Department. The language is set by them to cover a wide range of violations. The reason we were required to post this notice is a failure to report corrective action taken. The deficiencies noted in our sanitary survey do not involve improper treatment or sanitation of the water,” said DeSha.

DeSha also answered several questions about concerns that residents may have over the notice and its wording.

Question 1: Many residents are not exactly clear on what this notice means, especially when it comes to identifying the 25 contaminants and deficiencies found in the water due to them not being listed. Could you clarify and summarize it for the residents of Portales? Is lead one of the contaminants?

DeSha: “The letter is a form letter required by the state for notice of violations. The letter contains language designed to address a wide range of violations. The deficiencies noted in our sanitary survey involve the following as listed in our survey:

Well Field

a) Los Lomas Well #33-38 are lacking perimeter fences

b) Sandhill Well House #1 not secure

Storage Tanks

a) Storage Tank #1 (Johnson Hill East) did not contain a ladder gate or lock to prevent access to storage tank hatch

b) Storage Tank #2 (Johnson Hill West) did not contain a ladder gate or lock to prevent access to storage tank hatch

c) Storage Tank #4 (Rotary) did not contain a ladder gate or lock to prevent access to storage tank hatch

Well Construction

a) No well vent at Blackwater Draw #5-6

b) Blackwater #7-8 air relief not screened

c) Inadequate seal at Blackwater #10-12 air relief not screened

d) Inadequate seal at Blackwater #15-16, 24, 30, 33, 41, 42

e) Air relief at Blackwater #19 is not downturned

DeSha: “The deficiencies were corrected on time, however, I did not get the NMED notified as to four of these by the reporting deadline.”

DeSha also says that the City of Portales does not have any contamination violations and that the water in the city is sampled on an NMED schedule. He says that lead and copper are among regular contaminates tested for and that Portales does not test positive for lead. Residents can view the yearly Drinking Water Quality Report, obtainable at City Hall upon request.

Question 2: The notice says that pregnant women, infants, and the elderly are at an increased risk. What are the risks that are being referred to, especially if the drinking water has been deemed safe? Are pets at a greater risk as well?

DeSha: “This form letter refers to water that has been deemed unsafe to drink. This is, again, language designed to cover a wide range of violations. Our water is safe, sanitary and potable. The Public Notice section titled, ‘What should I do?’ states that there is nothing you need do. You do not need to boil you water or take other corrective actions. There were no risks to the public health. Pets are absolutely safe drinking this water.”

Question 3: The 25 deficiencies are stated to have been found on June 12, 2014 and are stated to have been resolved prior to November 30, 2015. This is one year, five months, and 18 days past the date that they were found. From there, residents were not notified about this occurrence until January 2016. This is 19 months after deficiencies were discovered. Many residents would like to know why they were not notified for 19 months. Is there any reason or explanation for this long period before any notifications were made, to your knowledge?

DeSha: “Sanitary surveys are conducted every three years. Deficiencies, when found, are routinely corrected by our staff. The state requires the City of Portales to notify the public if a danger to the public health exists. In our case, these deficiencies are related to routine maintenance and “housekeeping” issues and not inadequate treatment or sanitation of the water supply, or danger to the public health. We routinely test the drinking water for pollutants and test monthly for biological contaminants. We have these records available in the Drinking Water Quality Report, upon request or on the NMED Drinking Water Watch website.”

Question 4: There have been many water lines hit in the area over the years due to outdated mapping of the water system. Can line breaks create further contamination of the water? Is there any way to update the maps to avoid hitting lines in the future? Is so, does the city plan to do this?

DeSha: “We have experienced a large number of water line breaks, some of these are a result of bad mapping. The information on our water system is being updated all the time. We are in the process of producing new, more accurate maps in an effort to reduce the amount of third party damage. Leaks can, if not properly repaired, create contamination. Our staff have been trained to recognize this and take appropriate action to prevent contamination of the water supply. We maintain an adequate Chlorine residual in our drinking water as well to further ensure a sanitary water supply to our customers.”

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