Water Not Tested

‘This is a nightmare’ says water expert of Mesa del well reports

Mary Hansen bought a home only to discover Brooke Utilities had been using a well on the property for years without state-mandated water testing.

Mary Hansen bought a home only to discover Brooke Utilities had been using a well on the property for years without state-mandated water testing. Photo by Andy Towle. |

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Mesa del Caballo residents have been drinking water from an untested well — perhaps for years, according to documents obtained by the Roundup.

However, tests on water from the well sought by the Roundup last week showed no contamination.

Still, the clean recent test doesn’t guarantee that the well remained free of bacteria or other contaminates during the years it apparently fed into the Brooke Utilities system in the unincorporated subdivision with about 400 homes.

The Arizona Department of Envir­onmental Quality (ADEQ) confirmed that a well now owned by Mary Hansen, which produces about half of Mesa del’s water, has not been tested as required by law since it was drilled in 1996.

When asked if well no. 55-553798 (aka Mary’s well) had a record with ADEQ at all, Mark Shaffer, communications director for ADEQ wrote that the only mention of it is an April 3, 2013 inspection report.

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Mary Hansen explains how a mistakenly closed pressure valve caused an explosion that revealed her untested well was connected to the Mesa del Caballo water system.

That report found other violations for the Mesa del well system that was under Brooke Utilities management until this year when JW Water Holdings purchased the company. The ADEQ inspector found three unidentified wells connected to the water system. Those wells included:

• Well no. 55-553798 (aka Mary’s well) registered to Savanhildur Jafetsdottir, her partner.

• The second was well 55-560-560398 registered to Patty Caldwell (Behm).

• The third was well 55-553798 registered to the U.S. Geological Service, with coordinates that show it’s located in the San Pedro water basin in Southeastern Arizona.

The inspection also revealed several minor problems, like the lack of a turned-down vent on one well and a well (55-801698) without its state well number posted.

Over the years, Brooke Utilities had listed some of these wells in reports to the ACC listing sources of drinking water for Mesa del, which means state law requires regular testing of the water.

The Caldwell well did get tested regularly, said Behm, although she had no water sharing agreement with Brooke and wasn’t paid for the use of her water as far as she knew.

Mary’s well never did show up under that number in any of Brooke filings with either ADEQ or the Arizona Corporation Com­mission, according to the records reviewed by the Roundup.

The new owner of the water system, Jason Williamson, confirmed he received a certified letter from ADEQ on Aug. 12 listing several violations. Alleged violations include:

• Failing to receive approval from ADEQ before altering the existing water system

• Failure to request a permit to make changes that affected how the water is treated, its quality, the capacity of the system, distribution of the water and general performance of the system.

The Roundup has secured the services of Rim Country Water Testing Co. run by Don Ascoli, a certified water operator (OP#025325) in Rim Country. The company provides a complete array of water testing services, usually for private well owners. The state requires companies that sell water to test water monthly, but private well owners often don’t test their wells at all.

Ascoli said Williamson was to have met with the ADEQ requests by Sept. 12 or face consequences.

The Aug. 12 letter from ADEQ states Williamson could face civil penalties or the suspension or revocation of the company’s license.

The Roundup asked Ascoli to test the water from Mary’s well.

Ascoli’s tests confirmed that Hansen’s well is free of bacteria, nitrates and arsenic, the three most dangerous substances in drinking water from a well.

Ascoli said ADEQ requires him to test the water systems he oversees every month.

“If it’s a public water system, I and the owner of the system get a letter from ADEQ stating we are out of compliance if we don’t have test results in every month,” said Ascoli.

When Ascoli heard of Brooke’s mislabeling of Mary’s well and other wells in the Mesa del system he said, “This is a nightmare.”

Williamson said he and his company, JW Water Holdings are working to fix the issues, which all date back to before he bought the company.

“We are well aware of the inspection report and the findings in the ADEQ notices and are working with ADEQ to resolve them in a timely manner,” Williamson wrote in an e-mail. “After we work through the process, we have confidence all of the outstanding issues will be addressed. We would like to stress that the water sources currently used in Mesa del Caballo are safe and Payson Water Company is currently abiding by all of the ADEQ sampling and testing protocols.”

Shaffer wrote in an e-mail that ADEQ requires operators of water systems such as Mesa del’s to test for 100 different contaminants.

The agency requires testing on various timelines depending on the quality of the system.

If a water system has brown water, as has sometimes affected the Pine-Strawberry water system, ADEQ may require continuous testing.

Other systems can only be required to test once a year for nitrates.

For a list of requirements for testing see: http://www.azdeq.gov/ environ/water/dw/download/dw_ rules.pdf.

Shaffer wrote that if a system needs to be on its Monitoring Assistance Program, a qualified contracted laboratory takes samples. If tests are needed for coliform, ADEQ requires a monthly test. In the case of turbidity or “mud in the water” the system must do tests once every three months.

Brooke Utilities did file reports with ADEQ. They may be viewed at: http://azsdwis.azdeq.gov/DW W_EXT/index.jsp. Search under “Payson Water — Mesa del Caballo”

But did Brooke Utilities report findings on the correct wells? At least in the case of Mary’s well, ADEQ has no test records.

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