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Foul water smell for Sunland Park homeowners

SUNLAND PARK, New Mexico (KVIA) -- Homeowners near Mt. Cristo Rey are living in fear that they may be revisited by the same foul stench that invaded their senses in August 2021.

That's when a main break forced El Paso Water to discharge a billion gallons of wastewater into the Rio Grande, and they were fined by the New Mexico Environment Department for those actions. 

To this day, homeowners in one neighborhood say no one has ever explained what happened and if they should suspect if the quality of their drinking water was affected. 

El Paso Water and the New Mexico Environment Department are still at odds over pending litigation regarding that wastewater spill into the Rio Grande that produced an overwhelming stench in a small Sunland Park community, not once, but twice.

"We had to buy air fresheners. But we couldn't stand being outside. The smell was so horrific," said Maria Escarceda, who lives in a small neighborhood near Mt. Cristo Rey in Sunland Park.

Shades of that August spill came rushing back to their senses just last month when El Paso Water was forced to redirect wastewater into the Rio Grande again after another main break.

Even though the amount was much smaller, homeowners still feared the worst.

 "We thought it was gonna come back again, but it calmed down. But we didn't know if it would stop or not. We thought it was gonna be the same as the last time," said Escarceda.

The New Mexico Environment Department or NMED, fined El Paso Water $1.2 million for illegally discharging a billion gallons of raw sewage into the Rio Grande River in Sunland Park.

The department alleges sewage traveled downstream along the New Mexico-Texas border nearly 2 miles.

For their part, El Paso Water says they informed NMED about the discharge and fixed the problem. 

Neither side provided an on-camera interview on this story due to pending litigation.

As for the latest spill in March this year, NMED says they are comfortable with El Paso water's actions to mitigate and fix the problem.

ABC-7 asked Escarceda if she or anyone else had been given an explanation from New Mexico or El Paso Water about the two spills.

"No," she responded.

 Homeowners here are now worried about the quality of their drinking water, given that no one is telling them if it's safe to drink.

They rely mostly on bottled water.

El Paso Water does not provide drinking water to this neighborhood.

However, the Camino Real Regional Utility is responsible for drinking water in the Sunland Park neighborhood.

The Executive Director, Brent Westmoreland, says they test the water frequently and says the drinking water is perfectly safe to drink.  

They also worry about another spill and the harm it may cause to children.

 "It's the uncertainty, given that the children couldn't stand the smell. I have grandchildren who live with me and they couldn't stand being outside. I brought them in because I didn't want them getting sick," Escarceda said.

 Escarceda says she rushed them to a doctor when they broke out in allergies.

 She adds she and other neighbors know what to look out for should there be a third spill.

The first spill, she says,  brought an onslaught of what she described as a plague of flies.

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Saul Saenz

Saul Saenz co-anchors Good Morning El Paso.


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