While state and federal laws continue to improve drinking-water purity, utility companies scramble to keep abreast of ever-tightening environmental laws.
Last year, Brooke Utilities failed to monitor 15 of its water sources, including the main systems in Pine and Strawberry, in compliance with a new Environmental Protection Agency rule calling for the frequent testing of chemical additives used to control microbes.
The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and Brooke
Utilities, the company cited for noncompliance, said the public notice, posted as a newspaper legal advertisement, shouldn't cause alarm.
"It was just an oversight," said Brooke Utilities public information officer, Myndi Brogdon. "There are so many different rules and regulations. We thought we were in compliance."
And if you've been drinking water since, well, as long as you can remember, chances are you didn't know the difference.
Cortland Coleman, Arizona Department of Environmental Quality's public information officer, said water treatment facilities have used chlorine and other chemicals to purify water for years.
"ADEQ has received no complaints about the chemicals," Coleman said. "The new rule applied only to two compounds: disinfection byproducts (DBP) and maximum residual disinfectant levels (MRDL)."
The EPA said that DBPs -- toxic at high levels -- are created when chlorine interacts with organic and inorganic compounds in the water supply.
"MRDL is the maximum level for chlorine in the system," Coleman said. "It's extremely rare that it would rise to that level or approach that level. Folks would have been smelling chlorine."
Water additives are nothing new to the American public water supply.
Thirty years ago, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act to regulate public drinking-water systems.
The legislation sanctioned state and federal governments to oversee water quality -- from its smell, taste and odor to the presence of health-altering microbes and chemical additives like fluoride and chlorine.
The presence of chlorine in water, reported the EPA, has become particularly important in fighting cryptosporidium, America's most common waterborne illness.
Cryptosporidium piqued the EPA's interest in the 1980s and 1990s when tainted water had Americans dashing for their toilets. The nasty, yet robust protozoan -- found in human and animal feces -- caused several national outbreaks, the largest of which sickened 400,000 residents, killing 50 in Milwaukee, Wis.
Problem is, scientists found, cryptosporidium don't readily die. The EPA said the microbe's ironclad sheathing makes it resistant to most conventional disinfectants, and therefore, put the EPA in a quandary -- give consumers clean water laced with potentially carcinogenic chemicals to eradicate cryptosporidium or chance more outbreaks from contaminated water.
The EPA opted to require states to maintain water cleanliness with heavy-duty disinfectants, while monitoring the toxicity of the treated water.
"Basically what (the EPA's) saying, if you use chlorine or chloramines, you have to test," Brogdon said. "If any of our water came up harmful in any way, we'd shut that part of the system down immediately. People can be assured."
Systems serving between 500 and 9,999 customers, like Brooke Utilities, were required to begin testing, and notify the state by July 1, 2003. The sampling and notification deadline for systems serving fewer than 500 people was Jan. 1, 2004.
"It's a nonissue. It's really a paper-pushing issue," Brogdon said. "Everything's in compliance.
Coleman said the EPA's new rule collected dust in many other water districts around the state as well.
"This was not unique to Brooke Utilities," Coleman said. "The rule itself impacted about 900 water systems. Statewide 200 to 300 water systems failed to monitor for those two compounds."
Meanwhile, many residents, especially those who tap into wells, have taken water quality in their own hands.
Alan Roeder, owner of Mountain Water Systems, is one of Brooke Utilities' 3,000 customers in Pine-Strawberry affected by the noncompliance notice.
"I've seen some horrible water, especially in Strawberry," said Roeder. "I taste everything in the water. I taste the chlorine, it goes in spurts."
Roeder said testing water is crucial to determine dissolved solids and bacteria present. Filtration, he said, can trap up to 98 percent of pollutants missed by conventional processing.
"Filtration removes bacteria and chemicals of all kinds," Roeder said. "It's a purifier."
For more information about the cleanliness of your water or to report concerns, visit the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality at www.azdeq.gov, call (800) 234-5677, or contact the EPA's Safe Drinking Water Hotline at (800) 426-4791.
To learn more about water filtration, visit www.nsf.org or call Alan Roeder locally at (928) 970-0100 for free testing.