Updated: e.coli contamination confirmed in Socorro water supply
Editor's note: as of Monday, July 19th, this article is outdated.
Confirmed: e.coli contamination in Socorro Municipal water supply
As we reported yesterday, we heard several reports that the New Mexico Environment Department's Drinking Water Bureau had issued a "boil water advisory" for the Socorro municipal water supply due to e.coli contamination. Initially, we could not confirm this information, but it is now confirmed.
NM Environment Department's web site is inaccurate!
The NM Drinking Water Bureau does not currently list Socorro's water supply as being under a boil advisory. However, according to Joseph C. Savage with the New Mexico Environment Department, this is because offices are closed for the weekend, and they were unable to reach their web master to update the web site. He did confirm that the advisory is in effect - as of 3:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon. He does not expect that it will be lifted until - at the very earliest - Monday afternoon (but that is not certain, so until you hear an official confirmation that the advisory is lifted, be cautious).
Joseph Savage confirmed that the NM Environment Department has detected unacceptable levels of e.coil in one of Socorro's five wells, Sedillo Spring. Unfortunately, most Socorro residents do not know (if, in fact, there is a way to know definitively) which well their tap water comes from; as such you are advised to adhere to the boil water advisory despite the fact that 4 of 5 Socorro wells are apparently safe. Mr. Savage also noted that testing is ongoing and that NM Environment Department officers will be meeting with Socorro's city council and Mayor Bhasker tomorrow (Monday).
According to the flier distributed in Socorro (see link at the bottom of this story), the e.coli was detected in water before treatment, but the water after treatment did not have e.coli. If this is true, it would mean that Socorro's water - in theory - is safe to drink, despite there being a problem with contamination prior to treatment. However, it should be noted that due to the inherent risks involved - for example, if the e.coli levels rise and fall during different times of the day, or other variables (that cannot be predicted) change - it is still the position of the New Mexico Environment Department that you should boil your water. This is because, depending on such changing conditions, the post-treated water may also exhibit an e.coli problem.
How to stay safe
As we noted in our analysis, above, it is possible - but not certain - that Socorro's tap water remains safe, despite the e.coli that was detected. However, it is our opinion (and that of the NM Environment Department!) that due to the uncertainties involved, Socorro municipal water supply customers should continue to boil water (for 5 minutes after it has started boiling) prior to drinking, dishwashing, hand washing, cooking, washing fruit or vegetables (if intended to be eaten uncooked), brushing teeth, or gargling. Also be aware of ice made with tap water, as it could also be contaminated. It should also be noted that most home-based water filtration systems do not protect you from e.coli contamination - this includes reverse osmosis systems.
Additional information is available in the NM Drinking Water Bureau's boil water fact sheet (pdf file).
Stay tuned for updates
Socorro News will post additional information as we receive it. We expect to know more on Monday.
Flier distributed to Socorro residents