Low water pressure woes are raising fire safety concerns in San Tan Valley

SAN TAN VALLEY, AZ - Pinal County supervisor Mike Goodman and Rural Metro firefighters recently tested several fire hydrants in the community's largest neighborhoods. Goodman said what he discovered was "alarming" but not surprising.

In a letter to Goodman, a Rural Metro Fire spokesman stated:

"Based on the random sampling of hydrants in the San Tan Valley area, conducted at your request on July 2, 2018, none of those hydrants met the standards set forth in the International Fire Code."

Goodman called that unacceptable.

"That's a hazard, he said. "We've got these subdivisions where these homes are tucked in, if one fire starts up we don't have enough water supply to put that fire out, that's a concern, and everybody around here should be concerned."

Residents have complained about the water pressure issues to state agencies overseeing water quality and private utility companies.

A spokeswoman with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality said Johnson Utilities had taken several wells off-line a few months ago, due to high levels of nitrates and contamination.

ADEQ has just fined Johnson Utilities $10,000 for failing to bring the pressure up to state accepted standards in the timeline they were given.

ADEQ officials said Johnson Utilities had informed them one well was brought back online Tuesday, another expected to be on-line by the end of the week.

The news brought little relief to residents living in San Tan Valley, who have been dealing with a multitude of problems with their utility company.

From over-billing to water shutoffs even after they paid their bills, and bills showing unusually high water usage, the latest water pressure issue was the last straw.

Michael Cohen, a Johnson Ranch resident, said he had never experienced water issues like this when he lived in Gilbert or Chandler. 

Cohen said their water pressure had been greatly fluctuating. Over the weekend it got so low, he says water barely trickled out of his taps even when put on full blast.

"One lady told me it took her three hours to get the shampoo out of her hair. It's frustrating. We could not wash the dishes, take a shower, we could not do the laundry," Cohen said. "The water was barely dribbling out of the faucets."

Cohen said he paid his bills, which he thought were extremely high on time every month.

"This month my bill is $121. What am I paying for? It's really discouraging that they're allowed to charge those fees to residents and not provide the service that they should."

ABC15 reached out to Rural Metro for a comment. A spokesman declined our request for an interview but stated residents should feel safe in San Tan Valley. They said there are protocols in place in case of a fire if they experienced water issues.

The Arizona Corporation Commission is also currently investigating Johnson Utilities.

A spokeswoman sent us this statement:

"The Corporation Commission is actively investigating Johnson Utilities, LLC water outages. CLICK HERE for the full news release with more information on why Commissioners opened this new investigation in addition to the billing and water quality issues investigation."

This procedural order describes the timeline for the investigation into the water outages including a hearing set for 10 a.m., July 16, at the Corporation Commission offices: 1200 West Washington Street.

Here are a few things to know:

  • ADEQ responds to low water pressure as it can be a health and safety issue.
  • The Corporation Commission does not have jurisdiction over fire hydrants.
  • That said, if a fire hydrant’s water pressure is low, it’s likely a home faucet/shower/hose water pressure is low. So, the AZCC is monitoring this and actively investigating water outages with a hearing set for July 16."

The ACC also has an active investigation of the billing and water quality issues of Johnson Utilities, LLC. In that case, ACC Commissioners are awaiting the Administrative Law Judge’s Recommended Opinion and Order (ROO) as she reviews 13 days of testimony from 27 witnesses with 200 exhibits.

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