Repeat sewage mess in Rio Rancho has neighbors demanding a fix

On Special Assignment

RIO RANCHO, N.M. (KRQE) – Residents said it has happened before, and they are tired of it. Rio Rancho’s main break sent sewage flooding into their backyards, and residents had to clean up the mess.

“How I discovered it, was the smell first,” Curt Voiles was referring to the smell of sewage.

Before coronavirus in New Mexico and before social distancing, KRQE met with Voiles to take a look at the damage in his backyard. “The break was right behind the wall here and unfortunately, I probably suffered the most from flooding,” he explained.

The City of Rio Rancho said one of its wastewater force mains broke in February on Highway 528 south of 550, just behind Voiles’ home. It sent sewage rushing into a nearby diversion channel and into the backyards of three houses in the Santiago Neighborhood of Bernalillo. Residents said that this is something that has happened before.

“As you can see, the wall stayed stained and it goes all the way across my property onto the wall, and it also went into the neighbor’s property,” Carmen Cordova said.

Cordova lives down the street from Voiles. She said she found sewage overflowing into her yard last winter.

“It had sewage coming through, through the joints of the walls and my biggest fear was that the wall was gonna collapse and if that wall collapses, it’s gonna be in all of my bedrooms,” said Cordova.

Rio Rancho said there has been a main break there three times in the past five years. “They’re responsible,” Cordova said. “They should come and take care of this and clean up my dirt but nobody ever did, so I did it myself.”

“I wish I had my garden,” Voiles said. “I had a beautiful garden here, but I can’t take the risk anymore of building anything or creating anything because I don’t know when this is gonna happen again. I wish the city would come out and tell me if I have a hazardous situation.”

Rio Rancho City Spokesperson Annemarie Garcia denied KRQE News 13’s request for a social-distanced Zoom interview. She prepared an emailed statement instead.

In it, she said, the city fixed the most recent break the same day it happened and notified the proper entities, like the New Mexico Environment Department. Then, she said, the city did the standard clean-up: removing soil affected by the sewage, replacing soil, and putting lime in the area, which disinfects any bacterial residue left behind by the sewage. However, residents said, that clean-up did not include their yards.

“It’s just very concerning,” Voiles said.

Residents said they were left to figure it out on their own.”I was just afraid, you know, it’s contaminated. It’s dirty water,” Cordova said.

In response to clean-up concerns, the city only told KRQE that those affected can file a claim for property damage. That was in April. Then, just last week, four months after the sewage spill, Voiles said someone with the city finally came to his yard with clean dirt for the affected area.

The city said it plans to completely replace the main, so it won’t keep failing. Construction is expected to start later this year and last for about eight months.

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