Johnson Utilities responds to E. coli scare in San Tan Valley

SAN TAN VALLEY, AZ - Residents of San Tan Valley continued to contact ABC15 throughout Wednesday regarding an E. coli scare in their community.

Since the confirmed scare, concerned residents have been scrambling to buy water at local grocery stores.

Several viewers have emailed ABC15 and contacted us on the ABC15 Facebook page about a "lack of communication" on the part of Johnson Utilities.

"It is now noon, and yet Johnson Utilities is still quiet on this water contamination," wrote Kimberly Fry on Facebook. "No notices have gone out door to door, and no notices to customers. There is nothing on their website and [a] call to their office leads me to a voicemail."

"As of just a few minutes ago, I called Johnson Utilities to find out more about what is going on, and they will not say anything," wrote Gregg Christi around 10 a.m. on Facebook. "THEY WOULDNT EVEN AGREE WITH ME THAT I HAD TO BOIL MY WATER!!! As they are not saying anything right now. I am so mad I could scream!"

After unanswered calls Tuesday, Johnson Utilities has sent ABC15 the following statement Wednesday around 11:30 a.m.:

On August 21, 2012, Johnson Utilities initiated the release of a drinking water warning to its customers in the lower east valley. Johnson Utilities apologizes for the inconvenience this warning may have caused to our valuable customers. The warning resulted from a broad-spectrum test that suggested the potential presence of E. coli bacteria; although E. Coli was not detected in retesting in any of the 89 samples, one sample was positive for total coliform. 

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.

We conducted a re-test on August 19. On August 20, results from the lab indicated that of the 75 samples taken, none showed any presence of e-coli. One resample was however positive for total coliform. Coliforms are bacteria that are naturally present in the environment and are used as an indicator that other, potentially-harmful, bacteria may be present.

The tests also showed presence of residual chlorine, which is present in the water as a disinfectant in an amount sufficient to kill any harmful bacteria.  

Further, 14 samples taken at our drinking water wells were negative for both total coliform and E. coli. After consulting with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, Johnson Utilities issued a drinking water warning in compliance with the drinking water rules. For those who may not have yet received a copy of the warning, a copy is attached to this news release. The drinking water rules require a drinking water system to issue the warning if any resamples are positive for total coliform.

Johnson Utilities will be maintaining the warning in effect until we have confirmed that further resamples are all negative.  Three resamples have been submitted to our State approved laboratory and the results will be available early on August 23, 2012. Out of an abundance of caution, we recommend that our customers comply with our warning which recommends that boiled or bottle water be used for drinking, making ice, brushing teeth, washing dishes and food preparation until further notice. 

"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. We will take whatever measures are necessary to assure Johnson Utilities' water is safe and that we have complied with federal and state law," said Greg Brown, vice president of operations for Johnson Utilities.

Some of our customers are wondering how this can happen. Water systems do get contaminated from time to time; however, in this case, we believe there never was any contamination. Rather the false positives that were detected likely resulted from sampling errors or cross-contamination by the laboratory.

Over the past two weeks, the water system has not experienced any changes in pressure or increase in flows. There were no leaks found. These would be indicators of contamination getting into the system. We are constantly reviewing our procedures to assure clean and safe water for our customers. Once we receive testing results tomorrow, Johnson Utilities will issue a new statement.

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