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U.S. Rep. Vasquez requests $2.5M for safe drinking water in Doña Ana County

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – U.S. Rep. Gabe Vasquez, D-New Mexico, has requested $2.5 million in federal funding to renovate the Camino Real Regional Utility Authority (CRRUA) well to deliver safe drinking water to Doña Ana County residents, according to a press release sent by Vasquez’s office.

CRRUA provides water service to Sunland Park and Santa Teresa.

The announcement was made during a meeting held Friday, May 31 where residents, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), CRRUA and local officials came together to discuss solutions to ensure safe drinking water for residents.

“Ensuring the safety of our drinking water is non-negotiable. The residents of Doña Ana County deserve nothing less than full accountability, transparency and reliable solutions to fix the ongoing issues with our water infrastructure,” Vasquez said. “Today’s meeting is just one step in our continued efforts to protect our community’s health and well-being. That’s why I’m also proud to announce that I’ve requested $2.5 million in federal investments to renovate CRRUA’s well to deliver safe drinking water to Doña Ana County residents.”

“Vasquez will continue to work to guarantee safe drinking water for residents of Doña Ana County and hold CRRUA accountable for repeated safety violations and mismanagement,” read the press release. “He has called on the Biden Administration to improve and increase investments in our water infrastructure systems.”

 In December 2023, Vasquez convened an emergency meeting with CRRUA leadership to address a contamination issue.

In February, Vasquez wrote to CRRUA demanding an action plan for how CRRUA would address “systemic failures” and ensure all infrastructure was up to date.

In April, Vasquez wrote to NMED, calling for increased testing and public engagement to keep residents safe. 

The following are NMED enforcement actions against CRRUA:

  • On March 1, NMED issued $251,580 in penalties to CRRUA for violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act. 

  • On March 26, NMED received sampling results from CRRUA’s distribution system that showed arsenic levels above the federal maximum contaminant level (mcl) at one location. 

  • On March 27, NMED issued an information demand letter to CRRUA as part of an investigation into failures with their arsenic treatment plant. 

As we previously reported, the utility has been under fire for months over concerns about water quality and discolored water. Some residents have told KTSM that the issues have been going on for years.

KTSM reached out to the utility which provided the following information.

The utility said the meeting was an opportunity for Executive Director Juan Crosby to brief Vasquez on CRRUA operations, crucial issues and improved communications.

According to CRRUA, Crosby informed Vasquez the following:

  • CRRUA’s four arsenic treatment facilities are producing water below the federal limit for arsenic, which is 10 parts per billion (ppb).

  • CRRUA has passed the last five arsenic tests in a row including the most recent quarterly test conducted by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED).

  • CRRUA voluntarily conducts arsenic testing twice monthly as a self-governance practice and to help restore customer confidence.

Crosby also addressed discolored water saying primary causes include hydrant flushes and periods of peak water use that disturb naturally occurring sediments in water lines and water storage tanks. Reports of discolored water by customers are down 75 percent from February to April 2024, according to the utility.

Crosby said that constraints facing CRRUA include limited revenue associated with the current rate structure.

“According to NMED data for water rates, CRRUA is 50 percent below the statewide average and rates do not provide for capital reinvestment of CRRUA’s $81 million infrastructure. A rate adjustment approved in 2019 by a previous board of directors will go into effect July 1, 2024. Residential water rates will go from $15 to $17.83 for the first 3,000 gallons. Residential wastewater rates will go from $20.62 to $27 minimum on the first 7,000 gallons,” according to the utility.

Crosby also said that the utility serves a population of 21,752 in 36 square miles and four separate service areas: Sunland Park, Santa Teresa, Santa Teresa Industrial Park and Border Region with an arsenic treatment facility for each area.

Water is supplied by 14 wells and seven ground storage tanks through 120 miles of transmission/distribution lines, according to the utility.

Additionally, improved customer communication includes the timely posting of information on CRRUA’s website, Facebook page and YouTube channel, according to CRRUA.

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