Johnson Utilities: Water is safe after E. coli scare in San Tan Valley

SAN TAN VALLEY, AZ - Johnson Utilities says it has lifted a safety warning regarding water in the San Tan Valley and Florence areas, according to a Thursday news release.

An E. coli scare sparked a heated debate this week on how Johnson Utilities has handled its communication with residents.

Thursday around 1:30 p.m., the company sent an email to ABC15 saying the community's water is safe.

The email mentions the Florence area, but after calling Johnson Utilities, the staff said the warning has been lifted for all customers including San Tan Valley.

Here's the message in full from Johnson Utilities:

"Johnson Utilities confirmed this morning that water in its Florence area drinking water supply system contains no harmful bacteria. Steps our customers can follow to resume unrestricted use of the water are included in the attached public notice.

"After testing suggested the possible presence of coliform bacteria, Johnson Utilities advised its customers on Wednesday to take precautions before using water. Coliforms are naturally occurring bacteria that are used as an indicator of other, potentially harmful bacteria (such as e coli). Because of questions about the initial sampling results, Johnson Utilities had the water retested at two State-certified laboratories.  Both labs reported that the water contained no total coliform and no e coli. Based on this information Johnson Utilities has lifted the "Drinking Water Warning" advising customers to boil water before using.

"Johnson Utilities apologizes for the inconvenience this warning may have caused. 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 e coli contamination. Rather,the false positives that were detected likely resulted from sampling errors or cross-contamination by the laboratory.

"Johnson Utilities will exceed the required testing frequencies established by ADEQ to ensure we provide safe and reliable drinking water to our valued customers.

"Customers of Johnson Utilities were notified on August 21, 2012 and August 22, 2012 of a suspected problem with our drinking water and were advised to use an alternative source of water (e.g., bottled water) or boil the water before using. Follow-up tests have verified that any problem has been corrected and that it is no longer necessary to boil the water. We apologize for any inconvenience and thank you for your patience.  

"It is no longer necessary to boil your drinking water or use an alternative source of water

"Out of an abundance of caution, please flush all taps, clear out any ice cube trays and/or refrigerator ice and water dispensers. If you currently have a home water filtration system, we recommend changing your filter.

"As always, you may contact Johnson Utilities at (480) 987-9870 or visit our main office at 968 East Hunt Highway, Queen Creek, Arizona 85242 with any comments or questions.

"Please share this information with all the other people who drink this water, especially those who may not have received this notice directly (for example, people in apartments, nursing homes, schools, and businesses). You can do this by posting this notice in a public place or distributing copies by hand or mail.

"The Boil Water Advisory applied to customers of the Johnson Utilities water system who live north of Franklin Drive, just south of Magic Ranch subdivision.  If you are south of Franklin Drive (for instance, you live in Anthem at Merrill Ranch) you are provided water by other water systems. If you pay your water bill to the Town of Queen Creek Diversified Water Utilities, Inc., or H2O, Inc., even if you pay a sewer bill to Johnson Utilities, you were not affected by the boil water advisory, and this public notice does not apply to you."

The following is a statement from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality:

"The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality has independently reviewed the laboratory results from follow-up samples collected by Johnson Utilities on Wednesday, August 22.  The samples were analyzed by a state-certified laboratory using standard and approved methods.

"The analytical results confirm that bacteria are no longer present in the water supply and that the boil-water advisory and use restrictions are no longer required.

ADEQ's investigation into cause of the presence of E. coli in the samples is ongoing."

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