Published: 6:43 pm, Sun. Sep. 17th, 2017Updated: 6:36 pm
(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story was published in the Sunday, Sept. 17, edition of the Daily Press. The city reported today that its first day of clear test results had been achieved, meaning the order could be lifted Tuesday afternoon, provided Monday’s test samples also come back clear.)
For the second time in two months, the City of Artesia was rocked Saturday by news its water system had tested positive for E. coli contamination.
A boil water order was officially issued at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. In the accompanying press release, the City of Artesia stated results received Thursday from eight routine tests conducted Wednesday contained one positive result for E. coli. After notifying the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), a second round of samples was collected and sent to Cardinal Laboratories in Hobbs, and those results – received Saturday afternoon – confirmed the findings.
The news prompted a flurry of activity on social media, as residents rushed to contact family and friends. With Artesia’s first-ever boil water order – issued July 15 – still fresh in their minds, many also expressed their frustration with the situation, questioning why the alert had not been issued until a second test came back positive.
NMED Drinking Water Bureau protocol requires that a confirmation test be obtained before a boil water alert is issued in order to ensure the first result was not a false positive. That requirement is in line with the DWB’s mandate that two consecutive days’ worth of test results free of any type of contaminant are achieved before the order is lifted.
The city says additional samples will be taken daily for testing until the two-day obligation is met.
Saturday afternoon’s alert found local stores inundated with customers rushing to stock up on bottled water. The parking lots of both Wal-Mart and Fenn’s Country Market were filled with Artesians pushing buggies overflowing with packs, cases and jugs, and supply quickly began to run low. However, those stores told the Daily Press Saturday evening that emergency shipments were on the way, and they expect to be able to meet the community’s demand.
Some eateries quickly closed up shop, including McDonald’s, at which customers could be seen pulling in vain on locked doors.
The situation also prompted a two-day closure of the Artesia Public Schools.
APS Superintendent Dr. Crit Caton confirmed Saturday that all APS schools would close Monday and Tuesday. Building and central office administrators only were asked to report to work at their respective locations.
At a town hall meeting Aug. 1 at the Artesia Center following the July contamination, residents in attendance overwhelmingly expressed their desire that the city not begin using chlorination as a permanent method of disinfection, citing side effects experienced in communities that treat with that chemical. It is unclear at this point how a second positive result will influence the process going forward.
Residents are reminded that, under the boil water alert, water that is used for drinking, cooking, brushing teeth, or washing fruits and vegetables must be boiled for a minimum of one minute before using. The water remains safe for bathing, showering, watering plants and lawns, and washing clothes. Ice made using water from the city water system should not be used. This includes residential ice makers as well as commercial and restaurant ice. Ice made using water from outside of Artesia should be safe for consumption.