Despite the fact that cesspools have been illegal in New Mexico for almost 40 years, thousands of homeowners still use them to dispose of raw sewage…and the state wants that to stop.
For the next five months, the New Mexico Environment Department is providing amnesty to residents who contact the agency to have their cesspools eliminated and replaced with modern septic systems.
Dennis McQuillan with the state’s Liquid Waste Program says not only do cesspools pollute the groundwater…they’re dangerous.
"We had a child die in one a year ago, and just a couple weeks ago an elderly woman fell into one in Dona Ana County. It took two hours for her to get discovered and rescued," he says. "Pretty horrible things."
The normal penalty for owning a cesspool is six months in jail and a $500 dollar fine. The amnesty program continues until October first.
McQuillan says there is financial assistance available from the US Department of Agriculture for residents, especially seniors, who need to purchase new septic systems. Modern systems can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
He says the state has done surveys in several parts of the state and found cesspools at 96% of the homes in Cordova and 40% in Willard.