Why Are Rabbits Dying?

Canaries in the Coal Mine.

The Canary In The Coal Mine

Someone asked me “Could the contaminated water spread on Edgewood roads have anything to do with the rabbits dying?

Well, I don’t know. I am not a biologist or virologist. A google search reveals, however, that spreading contaminated water, repeatedly where rabbits are, could cause or contribute to the spread of the RHDV (Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus). Introduced to North America in 2000, specifically the RHDV2, as of March and April, 2020 is found in Santa Fe and seven other NM counties as far away as Clovis and down to Las Cruces. I think a statistical search would be generally be able to identify the source, and secondary sources, at least roughly. 

    The RHD virus is a Calicivirus in the same family as the enteric Norovirus which infects humans, but RHD is a host specific virus. Only adult rabbits can get sick from it.

In rabbits, though, it is particularly lethal and contagious. Mortality is around 90%. 75% will die in their burrows. The only way to exterminate the virus is to exterminate all rabbits in the infected area.

 The Calicivirus was originally spread by trade in domestic rabbits. The primary spread is by fecal material. Importantly, the virus can be spread by fomites . A fomite is a mechanism on which the virus is spread by an intermediate method such as food, bedding, and water. The RHDV2 is a very hardy virus, it can last for 7.5 months in tissue and only a few virions are needed to infect. The RHD lasts for days in the environment in comparison to the Coronovirus, which lasts hours. The RHDV2 survives in clean water.

Viruses, in general, are everywhere at all times. The largest virus is smaller than the smallest bacteria. It is almost certain that conditions that allow bacteria to get past filtration will allow all viruses. The RHDV2 is controlled by Sodium hyperchlorite, but not completely killed, and then at only high concentrations. It is waterborne and can be aerosolized. 

I did not find research directly linking an RHD outbreak to distribution of infected water on and adjacent to roads, maybe because, who would do that? There is nothing I read that seems to preclude that possibility. 

In spite of what the permit requires, I find no published report that the effluent from the plant was recently tested at the point it leaves the waste plant site until the new-hire out-of-state engineer had it done.  This is supposed to have been done weekly according to the permit. The permit supervisory agency,NMED, seems to be under the impression they are testing. The reuse pond from where the water is drawn is almost certainly contaminated, and probably has been for a long time. Among the handful of customers of the sewer system there is at least one animal clinic. The RHDV2 can be spread from the feces of animals which ate the infected rabbit. Even the best practices could put contaminated waste in the system. In a competently run system that would not be a problem. In addition to the defects I have pointed out previously in the physical plant, there is a culture of secrecy and deceit. 

The real point of this mental excursion is this. The facts I have discovered by a simple Google search apply to human pathogens, as well. In fact, within the last couple of years, a ten year old boy in Clovis, NM died from Cholera — Cholera! __ from bacteria in water he accidentally injested swimming in the water storage pond in a public park.

With the permit violations, raw sewage spills, failure to replace scheduled components, general shortcutting, understaffing, on top of a completely inappropriate original design with an unwillingness or ability to correct, in mind, I think most reasonable people at this point will recognize that if we don’t start running the plant honestly, correctly, and competently it is mathematically certain that we will experience some sort of health crisis.

You Had One Job!

This email chain is a little long, but if you stick with it to the end ( or skip to the end), you will discover information kept secret from us, that will affect the health and wealth of this community.

Subject: Question from citizen

Dear Town Clerk Juan Torres,

     I walk Church Street almost every day, and have for about six years. I have become accustomed to seeing the two town trucks filling at the reuse hydrant at the lift station on Church Street.  I am accustomed to their pattern year round.  I haven’t seen them for a while. 

    I believe that the newly installed sprinklers at the wastewater plant are operating.  I looked at the engineering specifications and concur that they are adequate in terms of flow for their intended use— distribution of surplus reuse water accumulated during winter when the roads need less watering. 

Also, With late snowfall I understand the roads need less watering, so I set aside my curiosity until last Friday morning at 7:45 am I saw the new town truck filling at a potable water hydrant in front of the fire station.
You have graciously invited me to ask you directly if I have concerns. I have two questions.
Is (was) there a problem with the effluent in the reuse lines from the waste plant?
If there is (was) a problem how was it detected?
Thank you

Good morning Mr. McGill,

I apologize for the delayed response. We have a new contract operator. At his request, he asked that we not utilize the hydrants until he is able to understand the permit and is able to verify our numbers. I do not know if there is a problem with the effluent. I do know that he is working with NMED to ensure that operations are in compliance with the permit. At this time we are just honoring his request. With respect to the sprinkler system, he spoke with NMED and they gave him permission to test and utilize the alternative disposal system. We have asked that when he is ready, that he will prepare a report for the Governing Body and explain the state of the wastewater treatment plant and what his recommendations are for moving forward with the operations. I will let you know more information when I have it.

Thank you, Juan for your response. I look forward to having my two questions answered. When should we expect the report?

Is the new contract operator on-site?

I am uncomfortable that it appears there is no one in town who can say from knowledge what the effluent from the plant we have been spraying contained and how we know it has been safe.

Thank you,

Good afternoon Mr. McGill,

I do believe his is still working with NMED and going over the permit. I know he has ordered more testing. At this time, I do not know when we will get his report or when he will present to the Governing Body. He is on site a minimum of a couple of days every month or as needed. He communicates with our onsite operator daily. I will let you know when we have a firm date for the report availability.

To: New Mexico Environmental Department

On March 11th, 2020, I sent the following email [ thread included below] to Edgewood Town Clerk, Juan Torres. I have not received a satisfactory response to my two questions. I am asking for answers to those two questions I requested of the Town Clerk in the email herein, from the New Mexico Environmental Department.

I am concerned about the health and safety of some of the local children specifically because of the Town’s apparent intention of using reuse wastewater to irrigate a soccer field without taking necessary steps, in my opinion, to guarantee the safety of the water which I describe in an email I wrote to an Edgewood Town Councilor in September, 2019. This email is lengthy, with attachments, and deals also with my concerns with the Town’s consistent use of improper process in decisions respecting wastewater issues.
I am concerned about the health and safety of the general public as this wastewater is being broadcast along many of the community roads.
I am concerned with the health and safety of the individuals who walk and bicycle the roads during and after the roads have been saturated with wastewater of unknown quality.
I am concerned for the health and support of the employee and contractors who work in the facility.
I am concerned about the lack of openness of the utility management.

This a summary of my concern.

Based on engineering reports, personal observation, and statements from onsite operators, the following have been true: The wastewater plant has a history of torn membranes. ‪The membranes‬ are torn from foreign objects improperly screened and from calcium carbonate buildup, I am told. Micro tears, or small tears may not be detected by significant vacuum loss, and the emphasis on extending useful life might mitigate against prompt replacement.
There is no day tank for short-term storage of 1A water, so all reuse water is mixed in the storage pond.
The advanced ultraviolet disinfectant system does not work and has been abandoned. The chlorine disinfectant is manually added, unmetered, without benefit of testing.
The reuse output after being stored in a pond is not re-tested before distribution.
Current science has verified that bacteria and viruses, including Coronaviruses, survive in sewage and are waterbourne.
Poor management is exacerbated by the absence of a level three certified plant manager for several months and the apparent absence of an elected or certified Town Administrator who is knowledgeable in the appropriate sciences.
The plant appears to be managed, alone, onsite with a health-vulnerable, under qualified, individual. I question if this individual can take any proactive, preventative, systemwide care whatsoever. There is no qualified technical support available in the town staff
The waste plant has been on notice of violation of its permit since September of 2016, and I do not sense any urgency to resolve the shortcoming. The current permit is due to expire in September of this year, I believe.

These are exactly the coincidental conditions that could result in a bad, even tragic, outcome.

I share the road with the water trucks that spray the road as the principal method of disposing the surplus waste reuse water. It is my direct experience that the odor of the distributed water is inconsistent.
As I stated in my email to the Town Clerk I have noted some surprising changes in practice that could be explained by problems in effluent quality. I and other pedestrians who have, and have had, intimate contact with road sprayers have a right to be informed in a timely manner, good news or bad.
The Town Clerk’s lack of candid response worries me.
The responses reproduced below prove that there is absolutely NO awareness or knowledge in the Town management of this sophisticated process. There is NO ownership of the responsibility. This plant is effectively, if not literally unmanaged.

Good Afternoon Mr. McGill,

I am the Domestic Waste Team Leader for the Pollution Prevention Section of the NMED Ground Water Quality Bureau. I was forwarded your request for a response from NMED for two question you had regarding the wastewater discharges associated with the Town of Edgewood Wastewater Treatment Plant. Through communications with the permit reviewer, Town of Edgewood and the plant operator I can provide you with the following responses:

Question #1: Is (was) there a problem with the effluent in the reuse lines from the waste plant?

Answer: The wastewater being discharged from the facility does not currently meet the reuse requirements set forth in the discharge permit. The wastewater exceeds the limit for fecal coliform and as a result has been diverted to the alternative disposal location to restrict potential human contact. The operator has informed us that the treatment plant is improving as a result of replacement of 2/3 of the MBR plates with the remaining 1/3 slated for replacement in the near future. The operator also indicated that improvements in the disinfection system is being proposed and considered. These equipment replacements and potential upgrades intend to improve the water quality to the point that it can be discharged to the reuse area again.

Question #2: If there is (was) a problem how was it detected?

Answer: The elevated fecal coliform level was detected through the routine monitoring required by the discharge permit issued in 2015. The permit requires that the wastewater being discharged to reuse areas be sampled one time each week to be analyzed for fecal coliform, once every two weeks for Biological Oxidation Demand (5-day), and the monitoring of turbidity/UV transmissivity. NMED was notified of the exceedance on January 30, 2020 by the operator who informed us that he would be diverting all wastewater to the alternative disposal location. The quarterly monitoring report does indicate an improvement in the fecal coliform levels. Wastewater will not be discharged to the reuse locations until the water quality consistently meets the requirements within the permit.

If you have additional questions please let me know and I will do my best to answer them.

Sincerely,