A water system in Llano Quemado has had to nearly double its rates to cover the cost of a $2.3 million project meant to reduce fluoride levels in its drinking water.
Since at least 2009, water that goes to the homes of about 200 residences contains levels of fluoride that exceed the federal and state limit. The area is known for fluoride-rich groundwater.
While fluoride in low doses has been found to prevent tooth decay, authorities and health agencies say long-term exposure to high levels of the compound can stain teeth, cause pitted teeth and lead to bone disease.
Andrew Chavez, president of the small water association, said he and most longtime customers drink the water. But the potential for health problems, as well as threats from state authorities to fine the association for violations, meant the board had to take action, Chavez said.
“We needed to take care of this problem and make sure it happened as soon as possible,” Chavez said.
As a fix, the association plans to drill a new well (in an area with lower levels of fluoride) and mix water from that well with its two existing wells in a new tank. That water — theoretically diluted to acceptable fluoride levels — will then be piped to customers of the system.
In all, the improvements are expected to cost about $2.3 million.
To pay for the project, the association sought help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development. Chavez said the agency provided a $1.5 million loan and $800,000 grant. To pay back the loan, Chavez said the association needs another $5,400 a month.
The association’s most recent tax filing (from 2013) shows it had $78,700 in revenue and about $63,000 in expenses that year. About $46,000 of that revenue came from fees paid by its 204 customers, the group reported. That means the average customer was paying a little less than $19 a month for water.
To come up with the additional revenue, the association board approved an increase that means customers will pay about twice as much per month.
As an association that serves family and neighbors, Chavez said he recognizes the burden the increase puts on customers, especially in light of a concurrent property tax increase recently approved by El Valle de Los Ranchos Water and Sanitation District that will affect many Llano Quemado customers.
Chavez said funding through the state Legislature and water trust board are competitive, and the grant/loan through USDA seemed like the best option, he said. He also noted that new pipelines and well locations will better position the association to accommodate future growth in the area.
“We don’t just want to take care of today,” Chavez said. “We want to make sure we set up the community for the future.”
The New Mexico Environment Department says naturally occurring fluoride is common in New Mexico, and usually appears when groundwater flows through porous rocks containing fluoride salts.
The EPA says “exposure to excessive consumption of fluoride over a lifetime may lead to increased likelihood of bond [sic, bone] fractures in adults, and may result in effects on bone leading to pain and tenderness.”
The agency also says children 8 and younger exposed to excessive flouride have “an increased chance” of problems. When it set its standard, the EPA says its limit of 4 parts-per-million was meant to curb adverse health effects. However, the agency does note that a secondary limit of 2 parts-per-million is a “guideline” for an upper limit. That limit aims to prevent cosmetic effects (like stained teeth) while balancing the benefits of fluoride for preventing tooth decay. A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services panel concluded that a fluoride concentration of 0.7 parts per million would balance health benefits and avoid stained teeth.
Test results from Llano Quemado’s wells show regular fluoride levels of above 4 parts per million.
Title of article: Taos area water system doubles rates to cut fluoride levels