A bacteria-infected well has been disinfected, tested, re-tested and stands nearly ready to go back online, Pine-Strawberry Water Improvement District Manager Brad Cole told the district’s board last week.
A routine test revealed a possible bacterial infection in the well nearly a year ago, prompting the district to immediately take the well offline.
Repeated tests showed the continued potential presence of bacteria, including eventually E. coli. The well remained offline as the district used chlorine to repeatedly disinfect the well, said Cole.
The district first detected the contamination in December of 2012, but the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) said the district didn’t have to immediately notify the public. The delay in notifying the public upset some water district customers and has been cited as a reason to support the recall of four board members by critics.
However, Cole said the district applied by all state laws and the tests showed no evidence the contamination posed any danger to the public before the district took the well offline.
Despite efforts to disinfect the well, the tests kept coming back bad, said Cole.
So the district tried pulling up the four-inch casing that surrounded the two-inch water pipe. The case was supposed to protect the pipe actually carrying the water, but engineers wondered whether contaminated water had become caught between the inner pipe and the four-inch casing, said Cole.
After removing the casing, engineers again poured chlorine down the well bore.
All tests after that cleaning showed no signs of contamination, including tests on June 18, June 28, July 18 and July 24, said Cole.
Cole said the district hopes to put the well back on line as soon as it gets approval from the ADEQ.
The district is also waiting for ADEQ to perform a free water quality evaluation of the system, which has been plagued by leaks, substandard pipes, decades-old meters, pipes and storage tanks, mostly installed decades before Brooke Utilities bought the system.
As an example, Cole noted that at least one water meter recently replaced was so old he’d never seen one like it. He researched the meter and discovered it must have been installed sometime between 1930 and 1950.
The district is replacing most of the meters in the system, in part because many of the older meters may not accurately measure how much water a customer uses any longer.
The district has also undertaken an effort to locate and repair leaks in the system, which may account for a significant percentage of the water flowing through the system. The leaks also represent a potential source of contamination in the system.
The district actually landed a federal WIFA loan to finance the leak detection effort. However, the federal officials revoked the loan when they discovered the district had already launched the leak detection effort.