Monday, August 06, 2007


Okay OD readers, here we go again. It's our little "class war" story of the day from out here in America.

Locals in a Nogales, Arizona subdivision have learned a bleak lesson about private water services. They've learned they don't have any water and they don't really have any recourse.

For a week now customers of the Valle Verde Water Company have had little or no potable water.

The water company blames their woes on 1) the city, which in this case has no control over anything, 2) the company's former owner who is dead.

Residents already knew they were in trouble when earlier this summer the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) Director Steve Owens announced that ADEQ had issued a Notice of Violation (NOV) to Valle Verde Water Company for a series of
drinking water quality violations in Santa Cruz County.

ADEQ cited the Valle Verde Water Company for failing to conduct
mandatory water quality monitoring, installing portions of a drinking
water system without the required permits, serving drinking water to
customers in excess of standards, and failing to notify customers of
pollutant levels in excess of drinking water standards.

Valle Verde Water Company, ADEQ said, had been serving drinking water tainted with
tetrachloroethylene, also known as PCE, to customers. PCE is an
industrial solvent, often used in dry cleaning. Consumption of PCE
tainted drinking water over many years could cause liver problems and
may increase a person's cancer risk.

Frank Leyva and his family live in the Valle Verde subdivision. Upon hearing of the violation report, he told television station KVOA, "I still have two kids at home, my wife, and my self, so that's quite a worry. Who knows how long we've been drinking that water."

One street over from Frank, Margarita Sol, who expressed the same concerns even though her family has been drinking bottled water for years. "We wash our vegetables and things with the running water. So there's still a danger there."

Valle Verde is classified as a “community” public water system because it serves a year-round population of roughly 2300 persons and is regulated by the state.

Yet, it sure seems to me to be a private company apparently not really beholden to anybody much.

Whatever the water company calls itself, it ought to drop water from its title until they figure out how to provide some to its customers.

As for the folks without water, there just doesn't seem to much of anything they can really do about it.

It ain't right.

The following is from the Nogales International (Arizona).

Valle Verde customers left in the lurch again
By Manuel C. Coppola

Instead of improving, things took a turn for the worse at the Valle Verde Water Co., and residents who had little or no potable water this week, don't know where to turn for help anymore.

"This is my livelihood," said Roxanne Baker, who has had her hair salon in the Flagstone building on N. Grand Avenue for 16 years. "I have no water, and 99.9 percent of everything I do involves the use of water. I'm just trying to hang on, here."

All dried up

Baker said on Wednesday that her establishment had been dry for six days. She, like other neighbors, have been calling to complain to the Valle Verde Water Co. and the City of Nogales, which by default, has become embroiled in a cluster of circumstances.

Because residents and businesses within the Valle Verde service area are hooked up to the municipal sewer system, the city does courtesy billing for the company when it sends out its sewer bills. The city in turn reimburses Valle Verde. The company has collected $156,578 since January.

But because residents write their checks out to the city, the common misconception is that the municipality is somehow profiting and is responsible for service quality.

Further enmeshing the city in the controversy is that it is actually providing water for about 2,395 residents in one of the northern portions of the system, particularly the Valle Verde subdivision.

That's because several contaminated wells in the area were shut down in January.

The city bills Valle Verde directly for that consumption and not the residents. Since the wells were shut down, Nogales has billed Valle Verde $56,161 for more than 22.1 million gallons.

To complicate matters, when residents called Valle Verde for explanations to last week's problems, a company representative would say the solution rested in the city's hands, which angered Mayor Ignacio J. Barraza. Barraza reportedly called the company and strongly suggested that the Valle Verde representative stop perpetuating misleading information.

Since its owner William "Pancho" Randall died in October 2005 at the age of 86, the Valle Verde Water Co. has been in a steady mode of deterioration. Family members say Randall took his knowledge about the system's infrastructure to the grave, leaving nobody qualified or knowledgeable to carry on the business.

Two weeks ago, Mike Leider, a 26-year water systems veteran originally from Illinois, was retained by the company. He said on Wednesday, "we have made huge strides but we still have some issues to address."

More pressing was a problem with Well No. 7, which serves an area between the old U.S. Forest Service Complex on N. Grand Avenue and Frank Reed Road near Nogales High School.

That area is not part of the system being supplied by the City of Nogales water.

The other problem, which Leider says would take "three hours and a backhoe" to resolve, is at the connection where the city's water meets the Valle Verde system just west of the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division on N. Grand Avenue and Old Tucson Road.

Leider, who resides in Vail, was in Nogales on Tuesday until about 9 p.m. investigating that problem. Deputy City Manager John E. Kissinger and Leider decided that city crews could tackle the connection issue.

Kissinger said he asked Leider for a letter from Valle Verde authorizing and indemnifying the city from any liability. Instead, Nogales received a letter from Valle Verde's attorney William Wissler simply requesting the help and informing Nogales that the company has no money to reimburse the municipality for the work.

There are two problems with that, according to Kissinger.

First, the city cannot conduct work on the taxpayer's dime for a private enterprise such as Valle Verde.

Secondly, Wissler's letter did not provide indemnity from the company nor the owner of the property where the troubled connection is located.

Wissler promised he would write the letter meeting city criteria by the end of the day Thursday.

In a phone interview, Leider cited a "culture of cooperation and camaraderie" within the water systems industry in which companies help each other based on good faith.

Unfortunately, city officials say Valle Verde is tapped out of credibility. The company has failed to communicate well with the city and its customers about the contamination problem; hooked up illegally in May to a well not certified by ADEQ; allegedly again connected to another well in July without following protocol; and is currently under probation after the state issued a violation notice citing several deficiencies within the company.

Barraza said, "It's become a very sad situation for the consumers in that area and we are basically banging our head against a brick wall trying to get formal permission to enter and assess why they lost pressure to include the possible manipulation of valves by someone within the company."

Barraza said he has instructed legal staff to research what Nogales as a municipality can do to address the Valle Verde Water issue "up to and including possible condemnation" of the system.

He said he has asked Gov. Janet Napolitano's office for a mobilization of ADEQ and Arizona Corporation Commission staffers "on the ground here in Nogales to assess the situation of Valle Verde, as well as the state Department of Health Services."

The lack of water service "is most definitely a public health risk that needs to be addressed."

In a telephone interview, county Health Director Kevin Irvine said his office had received just one complaint. He said health inspectors were going "door-to-door" on Thursday ensuring that businesses such as restaurants have running water.

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