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Aztec’s ongoing water problem persists

Public Works director says city water is safe to drink
Ruben Salcido, Aztec public works director, says city water is safe to drink. (Courtesy Ruben Salcido)

According to a letter included in Aztec’s latest water bill, the water system recently “violated a drinking water requirement,” but also said it does not constitute an emergency.

“As customers, you have a right to know what happened and what we did (are doing) to correct this situation,” the letter states. The water system has a “chlorine booster station on this tank to provide a sufficient residual to inactivate disease causing organisms.”

Aztec public works director Ruben Salcido assured residents that water quality is satisfactory.

“Oh, it’s safe,” Salcido said. “The challenges are the same anywhere you work, but our job is to ensure that the public is safe.”

Salcido said he expects the public interest around water quality will grow.

“We're probably going to get more questions of just how safe the drinking water actually is,” he said.

He said the water meets EPA standards and is tested weekly to ensure there’s “proper chlorine residuals and no bacteriological issues.”

The letter attributed the problem to a leaking tank, discovered during a routine sanitary survey conducted on Aug. 16, 2017 by the New Mexico Environmental Department’s Drinking Water Bureau.

Salcido explained that a bladder tank has a 45 mil polypropylene membrane that lines and covers a large reservoir of water on the south end of Aztec, just off U.S. Highway 550.

The notice states that the city was required to take action to remedy the deficiencies with the bladder tank, but failed. The affected area includes “customers living on the south side of Aztec, south of the Comfort Inn (included), and Flora Vista.”

Salcido, who came on board in January, said they have hired a consulting engineer, Souder, Miller and Associates of Farmington.

“They are doing a study as we speak for the proper size and design for a brand-new water tank to replace this bladder tank,” Salcido said, adding it will either be a steel or concrete structure.

Salcido said the preliminary engineering report will be used to obtain state and/or federal funding --- even emergency funding, if necessary. It will be used to replace the bladder tank, as well as the 12-inch emergency water line between Aztec and Bloomfield.

He said the line between the two municipalities could be used during a drought or other emergency situations either city would encounter.

Bladder tank built in 2003 to be replaced

The bladder tank, which holds about 2 million gallons, is filled by a line that comes from the Aztec Water and Wastewater Plant on New Mexico Highway 173. Salcido said the issue with the tank may be pinhole leakage, allowing ground water to penetrate the membrane.

The tank – located on San Juan County land, along with about 11,000 feet of 8-inch domestic water lines – serve about 40 households, outside city limits in the county.

This aerial photo shows the Aztec bladder water tank. (Courtesy of City of Aztec)

Salcido said the area is also under a new construction or additional water lines moratorium because of the antiquated 2-inch water lines.

Salcido said some residents are “frustrated that they can’t build until such time as … a larger water line is installed.”

Salcido said the complaints are more of a volume or pressure issue than one of turbidity in the water.

Certain residents in that area have expressed concern about their water to the Tri-City Record, including a complaint of severe water turbidity.

According to Salcido, as soon as the preliminary engineering report study being done by SMA is complete, it will be submitted to the cities of Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as San Juan County.

“We have three entities that would benefit from these projects,” he said, adding that once the study and a memorandum of understanding have been approved, the engineer will take the PER to the state and apply for funding.

In terms of a timetable for the report completion, Salcido said he thinks they are about 50% done. SMA began the study on May 5.

Salcido, who was operations manager for the city of Farmington for 23 years, said he was aware of the bladder tank situation when he was hired. The tank was built in 2003.

The rectangular bladder tank takes up several acres within a fenced area, and the depth of the tank is less than 20 feet, he said.

This aerial photo shows the location of the Aztec bladder water tank. (City of Aztec)
Non-Aztec water-users have complaints

Queried about residents outside the city limits who still use Aztec city water and are being billed for the stormwater tax adopted this year, Salcido said they do get a monthly stormwater charge on their bill.

“And the ones who are outside the city limits feel they shouldn't be assessed,” Salcido said. “However, when they call I have them understand that if you picture the city of Aztec kind of in a bowl. The moneys are going to fix the top of rim of the bowl … so it doesn’t just affect inside the city limits. It affects the whole area around the rim or the watershed area of that bowl.”

He emphasized that the study will consider the stormwater system in the region, not just in the city. So, the area beyond city limits is also affected, he said.

Salcido said the city’s “hopeful” that all area residents will “benefit no matter what,” including those who pay for city water.

Addressing water turbidity, Salcido said the major factors causing it are “old metal pipes and even plastic ones if they’re old enough.”

Barnacles, which are mineral deposits, build up inside the walls, and if “you don’t have an active flushing program, over time those barnacles get bigger and bigger,” he said. When a hydrant is opened to flush the barnacles, they break loose and cause water discoloration.

He said the spike of minerals in the water are the natural result of the flushing of water lines.

“And if you're the unfortunate soul that happens to open up his or her faucet at that moment, you’ll see (the result),” Salcido said.

When people see discolored water, Salcido recommends they let the cold water run for 10 to 15 minutes before calling the city. If it stays discolored, the city will come and flush the lines outside the residence.

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