New Mexico Environment Department announced Thursday it had reached a tentative settlement with the Village of Ruidoso over violations of federal and state drinking water regulations.
Ruidoso Village councilors will consider adopting the agreement at its regular meeting Dec. 10.
The agreement allows the village to take several corrective measures instead of paying a $48,000 fine.
“We feel very good about the settlement,” said Ruidoso Mayor Raymond “Gus” Alborn. “The good news is, it absolves everybody of guilt. As soon as we can get it to the council, we will.”
NMED issued an administrative compliance order to Ruidoso after the village failed to submit water test results for water provided to its customers from June 1-8, according to NMED.
Ruidoso submitted testing data for turbidity, a measure of water clarity, that consistently showed lower readings than the village’s assigned meter.
Ruidoso and NMED were unable to determine if the reading were accurate or reliable to protect public health, according to the findings that NMED and Ruidoso signed in the agreement.
Ruidoso denied the allegations that public health was threatened by the turbidimeter readings and challenged NMED’s civil penalty of $48,000. The village asked for a hearing before the secretary of Environment.
NMED and Ruidoso then began settlement discussions to resolve the matter. As a result, the two reached an agreement.
“After launching an extensive investigation, which uncovered serious violations of federal and state drinking water regulations, and issuing a strict compliance order, (NMED) is pleased to have reached a tentative settlement agreement with the Village of Ruidoso,” said NMED Communications Director Jim Winchester.
NMED opted to craft a settlement that will provide stringent controls and long-term measures to protect Ruidoso’s drinking water in the future, the value of which far exceeds the initial civil penalty, Winchester said.
One part of the plan will be for NMED to conduct a sanitary survey of Ruidoso’s public drinking water system within six months of the effective date of the agreement. Ruidoso will be required to correct any significant deficiencies found.
Ruidoso has invested $1.5 million in its water system since July.
Ruidoso will also be required to provide regulatory and environmental ethics in its 2014 ethics training to its employees.
Following the violations, Ruidoso hired a new certified water operator supervisor. One of the two employees involved in the violations is no longer employed by the village. The second employee is still involved in a separate negotiation process with NMED to determine final penalties, Winchester said.
Alborn said he hoped the settlement would settle much of the misinformation about the issue that has surfaced in the village. It will especially absolve Village Manager Debi Lee, he said.
“People were trying to make a mountain out of a molehill,” Alborn said. “There has been a lot of misinformation given out in this community about several things related to a lot of people who want to continue to give out misinformation. I regret that, but we can’t control these people.”