Water not fully restored in Candelaria after winter storm damage

CANDELARIA — When snow started to fall in Candelaria in the early morning hours of February 15, pipes in the small desert settlement began freezing over. While Marfa lost power for three days and the city of Presidio avoided the worst of the winter storm, Candelaria and its water system were struggling, unable to produce a drop of water after the winter storm hit. Over a week later, the system is still not fully restored, leaving residents reliant on generosity and bottled water.

It was Tuesday when Presidio County authorized the Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Joel Nuñez to deliver 150 cases of bottled water, driving the 50 miles of hilly road from Presidio to reach Candelaria residents. Residents were grateful to have drinking water on hand again.

As the days wore on, Candelaria resident Yanet Lopez Baeza became concerned for her family of eight. She received five cases of water the first time Nuñez arrived. They conserved it as best they could, using non-potable water from a local tank in town to wash clothes, take showers, wash dishes and wash their hands, Yanet’s daughter Estrella said, “but not to drink.”

Yanet’s young children are 11, 10, 8, 5, 4 and 2. Iliana, the youngest, is still bottle fed with formula, and without potable water, they wouldn’t be able to make any. Yanet wasn’t just worried for her own family, though. “There’s a lot of babies here,” she said.

The water system in Candelaria has faced its share of challenges, from wells running dry to wells producing water containing naturally-occurring arsenic in the past few years. The system eventually received grant funding, allowing Communities Unlimited Inc. to contract Tony Manriquez to check on the town’s water system.

Manriquez could not be reached by phone this week to discuss the technical details of the outage. But Yanet, who lives down the hill from the town’s water tank explained, “Over on the big tank, a pipe is broken, so it’s leaking and that’s why you can’t get water.” Up on the hill, water poured out of the small pump station building, spilling into the ground.

On Friday, Manriquez told the sheriff’s office he would be traveling to Candelaria to work on the system, and later in the day, he reported that he was able to get a low amount of water flowing again. He’d also sent water samples for testing to the state agency that oversees water quality and put out a boil water notice due to the pipe breakage.

Along with pipe breakages, the town’s water pump had failed. John Skinner of Skinner’s Drilling & Well Service LLC out of Alpine was called on to repair the pump, Judge Guevara said. Though he made a visit on Tuesday, Guevara reported that more work still needs to be done to restore the water system.

The judge speculated that the pump breakage could have been collateral damage from the storm. Residents in Candelaria and Ruidosa experienced rolling brownouts, with power in the two small towns repeatedly shut off and on. It’s possible that the repeated outages contributed to the electric pump’s failure.

Soon, there were reports that the weather had broken the chlorination system, too. “With so many grants that we’ve gotten, there should be a foolproof chlorination there,” Guevara said on Monday.

Friday, two more cases of water arrived for Yanet and her family. Nuñez was authorized to bring 75 to 80 more cases of water to Candelaria then, delivering them to families eager to have clean drinking water.

“They were without water for a whole week, so I authorized twice for them to buy potable water and take it out there to them,” Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara said on Monday, one week after the outage began. “I don’t know how they’re doing now.”

Yanet let the hose in her front yard run on Saturday, showing how the once gushing flow was now reduced to a trickle. Estrella, 11, said that the water coming from the hose had a bad taste and a white tint that made the family reluctant to use it.