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“Systematic failures” found by New Mexico Environment Department in CRRUA investigation

KVIA

SANTA TERESA, New Mexico (KVIA) -- The New Mexico Environment Department has released their findings from their investigation into the Camino Real Regional Utility Authority, better known as CRRUA.

The investigation stems from a treatment plant mishap in late November that caused the PH level to rise to unsafe levels in thousands of people’s drinking water in Santa Teresa and Sunland Park.

The 132-page report says that pH sensor malfunctions and operation failures by CRRUA's staff led to excess sodium hydroxide, also known as caustic soda, to be dumped into the water.

“The sensors, that actually monitor the acidity of the water, were reading that the pH levels were negative, and that’s what caused that system to call the caustic soda to be dumped in to bring the pH level back up," said John Rhoderick, the director of NMED's Water Protection Division.

The official cause of the incident from the NMED's report is different than the explanation that CRRUA officials gave to ABC-7.

Former CRRUA executive director Brent Westmoreland originally told ABC-7 that a pump failure caused excess amounts of sulfuric acid to be dumped into the water, causing it to feel slimy.

However, Rhoderick says sulfuric acid would have reduced pH levels, not cause them to rise.

“I don’t know why [CRRUA] continued to talk about it being the acid, it was in fact just the opposite," he added.

ABC-7 spoke with CRRUA’s interim director, Juan Carlos, Friday.

We asked him to comment on the investigation’s findings, and he told us to send him a list of written questions that will be answered within "one-to-two days."

As for consequences CRRUA may face, Rhoderick says the utility company may be forced to re-train operational staff, and adds that there’s "additional enforcement acts coming."

The investigation also found that seven violation notices were sent to CRRUA in 2023. As of this publication, only one has been resolved according to the NMED.

ABC-7 will bring you CRRUA's response to the investigation both on-air and online at KVIA.com as soon as it's provided to us.

A copy of the investigation report is linked to this story.

Article Topic Follows: New Mexico

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Jason McNabb

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