7/25/2012 9:54:00 AM Unsafe water notifications questioned in Humboldt Customers told in May of high nitrate levels in March tests
Landon Eitemiller, 5, sips on bottled water, the only water his parents, Brian and Rose Eitemiller, allow him to drink at home. The Eitemillers receive their tap water from the Humboldt Water System, which tested high in nitrates in March and tested less than the maximum levels in April. The Eitemillers say the water company failed to notify them of high nitrate levels.
Trib Photo/Sue Tone
A state environmental agency is requiring the Humboldt Water System to conduct quarterly testing of its nitrate levels after test results in March revealed higher than maximum contaminant levels. The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality placed the water company on a more frequent testing schedule after finding nitrate levels of 11 mg/L in samples pulled March 15. The maximum level allowed by federal and state law is 10 mg/L.
Even though further tests on April 17 showed the nitrate levels had dropped to 8.7 mg/L, the company didn't notify its customers. In fact, it wasn't until May that some customers found out about the high levels in March.
HWS posted a warning notice at the Chevron Market and the Humboldt Post Office on May 15, which warned that giving water to infants six months old and younger could cause serious illness and, if untreated, could lead to death.
The two-month delay in notification is leaving customers of the Humboldt Water System - about 323 service connections on a 300-meter distribution system - wondering whether the water is safe to drink or not.
Tim Kyllo, president and owner of Humboldt Water System, told the ADEQ that he provided his water users with an individual customer mailing about the high nitrate level, but at least two customers said that never happened.
Rose Eitemiller said she saves all her water bills and she did not get personal notice of the warning on her billing statement. What she did see at the bottom of her April-May statement, was "Important nitrate drinking warning is available online at http://www.utilitybillingonline.com/sites/hws/." The link took her to the water company's 2011 Consumer Confidence Report, which indicated the highest nitrate level for the 2011 reporting period was 6 mg/L. The billing statement included no mention of the recent high levels of nitrates.
Thirteen days after ADEQ notified Kyllo of the March 15 test result of 11 mg/L, the company retested its water. The March 28 test came back with a slightly higher nitrate level at 11.4 mg/L. But by the third test on April 17, ADEQ found the level had dropped to 8.7 mg/L on total nitrate, which is below the exceedance level.
Kyllo said nitrate levels fluctuate naturally and he doesn't use any process to lower levels.
"If they remain over the maximum contaminant level, a filtration system would be necessary to maintain lower levels," he said.
Nitrates occur naturally during erosion of natural deposits. It also happens with runoff from fertilizer use, septic tank leakage, and sewage. Dewey-Humboldt has no wastewater treatment facility; homes and businesses operate with their own septic system.
Ken Johnson, project manager for the Humboldt Unified School District, said to his knowledge the Humboldt Elementary School, one of the water company's customers, did not receive a public notice either.
"It would have been brought to my attention," Johnson said.
The school district recently put in a $350,000 filtration system on the school's septic operation, based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requirements, to lower nitrate levels in its effluent, or outgoing wastewater. Johnson said the neighborhood's older septic systems could contribute to nitrate leaching into the water table and causing problems for the Humboldt Water System. Most of the homes are not in compliance, he said, and the owners don't have the money to do anything about their septic systems.
D-H Town Manager Yvonne Kimball confirmed that all town residents and businesses are on individual private septic tank systems, which is monitored by the Yavapai County Environmental Services.
As to the 11 mg/L nitrate levels, Johnson said, "That's awfully close; it could have been in the instrumentation or maybe the filtering system needed service."
The HWS 2011 Consumer Confidence Report indicates the highest nitrate level detected in 2011 was 6 mg/L. It also states, "High nitrate levels in drinking water can cause blue baby syndrome. Nitrate level may rise quickly for short periods of time because of rainfall or agricultural activity. If you are caring for an infant, and detected nitrate levels area above 5 ppm (parts per million), you should ask advice from your health care provider."
Mark Shaffer, public relations officer with ADEQ, quoted state law relating to public notice requirements in a July 9 email to the Tribune: "Pursuant to § 141.202.c, the public notice shall be served within 24 hours in a form and manner reasonably calculated to reach all persons served. The form and manner used by the public water system are to fit the specific situation, but must be designed to reach residential, transient, and non-transient users of the water system."
ADEQ is requiring quarterly sampling at the Humboldt Water System at the main well, backup well and booster station. The April 17 inspection report states that all three were in compliance with nitrate levels of 8.4, 6.7, and 8.7 mg/L respectively.
Shaffer said ADEQ contacted HWS on July 2 to get the second quarter water results. "The certified operator there was instructed not to sample unless ADEQ told them to do so," Shaffer said in an email on July 16. Yesterday he confirmed the system's certified operator tested the water on July 17, and ADEQ expects to receive the results "within the next week or two."
"There's no timetable in play on enforcement matters in deciding if we are going to issue a notice of violation," Shaffer said. "We are continuing to investigate this matter."
Posted: Thursday, July 26, 2012
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How funny that nobody mentions the leading cause of high nitrates in water sourcing from a rural area is agriculture and ranching. I know where Humboldt Water's wells are. Show me a single failing septic system in that area. Better yet, get Yavapai County Environmental Services to do it.