Alibi V.16 No.43 • Oct 25-31, 2007 

News Bite

Troubled Waters

You gonna drink that?

Environment New Mexico (ENM) has bad news for anyone who fishes, swims or drinks tap water in the state.

A new ENM report shows more than half of the state's major industrial and municipal facilities are polluting New Mexico's waterways.

The report, which looks at Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data from New Mexico's streams, lakes and rivers during 2005, indicates 51.5 percent of the facilities exceeded their Clean Water Act permits at least once. That puts New Mexico slightly below the national average of 57 percent.

However, those that did exceed permit levels were 12 times the legal limit. That average is the highest in the country. In other words, New Mexico doesn’t produce the most pollution of any state, but polluters in New Mexico dump more on average than anyone else nationwide.

To hear the New Mexico Environmental Department (NMED) tell it, one of the biggest reasons for the discouraging data can be traced to one plant. “The lion’s share of our exceedances in this report are due to one facility: the Ruidoso Waste Water Treatment Plant,” says NMED Secretary Ron Curry. “Ruidoso has been out of compliance since the mid-'90s under EPA’s watch. However, we recently succeeded in bringing communities to the table to sign an enforceable settlement agreement that puts them on the road to compliance within the next 37 months.”

Randall Coleman, an ENM environmental associate, is still unsatisfied. While he supports and appreciates NMED and Gov. Bill Richardson's efforts, he says more federal funding is needed for municipalities to purchase the equipment needed to ensure CWA compliance. “The largest number of facilities that are in violation are in municipalities,” Coleman says. “Funding that allows municipalities to purchase water treatment technologies has been less and less available.”

As for what happens when companies don't comply, Coleman worries that these facilities often face no punishment and are sometimes not even told about their violations. “Funding for enforcement of the permits has been cut repeatedly under the Bush administration, so there's no teeth to them,” Coleman says. “Facilities are going to continue to pollute if they don't face repercussions.”

While ENM continues to work toward ensuring CWA compliance, Coleman sees a chance to reclaim some ground in the fight to clean up America's waterways.

“The Bush administration has weakened the protections on our rivers, lakes and streams; and the Clean Water Restoration Act would re-implement those protections,” Coleman says. “This act would insure that all our waterways, big and small, would be secure.”

One hundred and seventy members of Congress, including Rep. Tom Udall, have co-sponsored the bill, which is now in committee in the House and is expected to be voted on later this fall.