Twenty-four days.

That’s how long 6,423 people in San Juan County, New Mexico, have been using poorly filtered, potentially toxic tap water. 

In late May, residents of the unincorporated community of Crouch Mesa and the Navajo Nation were instructed to boil their water before injesting it because of potential contamination. That risk stemmed from a valve malfunction that private supplier, Animas Valley Land and Water Company, reported to county officials on May 25. The company issued its boil water advisory on the 25th; it was lifted by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) on June 1 after the agency reviewed water samples and found no microbiological organisms. 

But the state inspected the supplier’s site and found 29 significant deficiencies separate from the valve malfunction, including improper containment for liquid chemicals and poor record keeping. This prompted the NMED to place customers back on a boil water advisory. 

The NMED also issued two emergency orders requiring Animas Valley Land and Water Company to supply clean water by July 15 or face daily fines of up to $1,000. Animas missed the deadline due to unfinished construction. Eventually the San Juan County of Emergency Management opened free showers and water-filling stations by June 20.

One Navajo Nation member Irene Begay told Indian Country Today that she drank the water after May 25 because she didn’t receive the boil advisories.“Most of these notices were put up on Facebook, but I don’t use Facebook,” Begay said. “I didn’t even know the water was bad. I was still drinking it, still using it, because I wasn’t aware anything was wrong.”

The Farmington Daily Times reports that the company will complete whatever work is needed by July 21. Until then, the San Juan County Office of Emergency Management will continue to operate two 24-hour water fill centers. One location, the one at McGee Park, is about 2 miles away from the northeastern border of the Navajo Nation. Both the NMED and Public Regulation Commission are investigating Animas Valley Land and Water