Some residents in Santa Teresa and Sunland Park said communication from Camino Real Regional Utility Authority about recent water quality issues was too little and too late.
Doña Ana residents living south of La Union received an emergency text alert through Doña Ana County’s Office of Emergency Management warning that water was unsafe to drink on Friday Dec. 1 just after 4:30 p.m. said County Manager Fernando Macias.
Brent Westmoreland, the executive director for Camino Real Regional Utility Authority, said the company knew about the issue on Wed. Nov. 29 and that he choose not to make a public announcement to avoid a panic.
“We found out about it Wednesday, we did not know how large an issue we were dealing with nor the source,” he said. “And it would not have been a good idea to overly alarm people until we knew for sure what we were dealing with.”
After the public alert residents were advised to not use their water for bathing or cooking. By Monday the utility had restored service.
However, people are still advised to open all faucets and let water run for 20 minutes on first use. This is to flush out water left in the water lines before cooking, drinking, washing clothes or dishes, or for bathing, according to the utility and Doña Ana county officials’ press release on Monday afternoon.
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Chris Torresday, 34, who lives in Sunland Park told Source NM he was frustrated with the lack of communication from Camino Real Regional Utility Authority, and questioned why the utility waited to issue an advisory until Friday.
“I think it’s easy to take these utilities for granted, but three days without potable water is a stark reminder that there is no time to prepare for an emergency like now,” Torresday said. “I only wish the people running this utility felt the same way.”
Torresday said it was confusing that the utility did not issue updates on its own Facebook page, instead, updates were posted by the Doña Ana County Government Center.
When pressed by Source NM about why there was a two-day gap in telling the public, Westmoreland said it was Doña Ana County officials who delayed telling residents.
Westmoreland said the Camino Real Regional Utility Authority coordinated with county staff to draft a press release starting on Thursday, and that Friday was “as quickly as they could get it out.”
“We’ve known about it since Wednesday, we’ve been cleaning the system since Wednesday, it’s not a perfect world, young lady,” Westmoreland said, addressing the reporter.
Doña Ana County officials denied that Camino Real Regional Utility Authority informed any member of its staff of the water quality issue before Friday Dec. 1
Anita Skipper, the spokesperson for Doña Ana County, said in an email that all communication began that day.
“I was notified on Friday and asked for assistance, which I happily provided,” she said.
Macias said the Camino Real Regional Utility Authority did not tell anyone at Doña Ana County that the water was unsafe to drink before Friday.
“Because certainly, if the information had been given to us on Wednesday that was given to us on Friday, then we would have pushed forward bringing our emergency Office of Emergency Management into the picture,” Macias said.
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