San Tan Valley residents concerned about notification about E. coli scare

SAN TAN VALLEY, AZ - Residents in the San Tan Valley area told the ABC15 Investigators they were upset they were not informed sooner, when Johnson Utilities learned of water samples that had tested positive for E. coli bacteria and total Coliform bacteria.

According to the timeline provided to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality by Johnson Utilities, the utilities company complied with the minimum state and federal regulations for alerting the public of an acute health threat.

The company distributed a warning message to local schools on Tuesday, but much of the rest of the public wasn't officially notified until Wednesday.    

"Johnson Utilities apologizes for the inconvenience this warning may have caused to our valuable customers," a company statement – issued Wednesday – indicated.   


 According to information provided by a public relations firm representing the company, "We first became aware of a potential problem on August 18 when our routine sampling revealed some positive results for E. coli that we believed to be false since they contradicted the results of our previous regular sampling."

According to information provided by Johnson Utilities to John Calkins, the Manager of the Drinking Water Section of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, routine samples had been collected on August 16, but the company was not informed of the results until August 18, 2012.

Three of the samples tested positive for E. coli, he said.

"That doesn't constitute an acute health threat or violation," he said.

Instead, Calkins said, those positive samples triggered the need for follow-up testing. 


According to Johnson Utilities, a second set of samples were collected on August 19th, but the results were not provided to Johnson Utilities until the August 21st.

The second sampling, according to Johnson Utilities, showed no presence of E. coli, but one sample showed was positive for total Coliform bacteria.

"That one positive sample out of that second set….that then triggered that it was...acute health threat," Calkins said.

According to Calkins, state and federal rules require the company to alert the public of an acute health threat, within twenty-four hours of learning the final results of the second sampling also contained at least one positive sample.

"We're working closely with the water system to make sure that we have all the available information, and we'll review that information to determine if they've met all the reporting requirements," said John Calkins, the Drinking Water Section Manager for the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

"The safety of our customers is our first concern. Our families live in our service area and consume the same water as our other valued customers," said Greg Brown, Vice President of Operations for Johnson Utilities.  "We will take whatever measures are necessary to assure Johnson Utilities' water is safe and that we have complied with federal and state law."

Read the full statement


Johnson Utilities has an "extensive enforcement history" with the state of Arizona, according to Mark Shaffer, a spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

The ABC15 Investigators discovered multiple Notices of Violations issued by the state to the company during the past decade.

The violations include reprimands for  a 2008 sewer overflow that discharged 10,000 gallons of raw sewage.

The ABC15 Investigators also discovered an $80,000 settlement between the state and the company in 2003 for failing to obtain the proper approvals before constructing and operating a water facility.

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