March 2005: Volume 47, Number 3
by Karen R. Smith
As this issue goes to press, it is raining here in Arizona, which has the unfortunate effect of making folks forget there’s a drought. A record-breaking, lake-vanishing, why-aren’t-xeriscape-laws-tougher sort of drought. Believe it or not (and I didn’t, being from the East Coast) there are no storm sewers and few cisterns out here in the desert. I thought individuals and municipalities would want to catch every single drop when the heavens oblige, but that’s not the case. Locals seem to think me odd when I suggest doing so.
On Tuesday, January 25, the city of Phoenix—home to approximately 1.5 million people—issued a boil water advisory. The Water Services Department stated it was a precaution because of problems at a treatment plant. There are five water treatment plants there; two were closed for routine maintenance which left three to meet residents’ needs.
As the rains continued, one plant was flooded by the storms and another suffered a reduction in production from silt and debris stirred up by excessive rainfall in the Salt River, from which much of Phoenix’ water comes.
While officials noted that cloudy water from your home’s faucet does not necessarily have serious health effects, they did explain that some of the particles making it through the filtering process could contain bacteria. “It’s hard for us to tell,” said Annie DeChance of the Water Services Department.
“There’s nothing to indicate…there’s any health risk issue, but we’re taking precautions,” explained the city’s mayor, Phil Gordon, adding, “there’s no way anybody could anticipate the amount of mud and dirt and rock that flowed down the river.”
The turbidity problems of the fifth-largest American city were, thankfully, short lived. By noon the following day, the boil order was lifted, water quality was assured and life returned to normal.
The boil order in Alpaugh, Calif. has been in effect since 2003. They are not the fifth largest city in the country. With approximately 700 residents, Alpaugh barely qualifies as a town—yet it is a town in the most prosperous state in our nation. A town without drinking water.
Tests of Alpaugh’s drinking water, drawn from the San Joaquin aquifer, showed that it was unsafe due to naturally occurring arsenic, selenium from agriculture and leakage from the dilapidated sewer system. One well had arsenic levels four to six times the newly adopted federal standard. A temporary tank was installed, where for 13 months residents lined up to receive their water, paid for with donations from private businesses through a program set up by Assemblywoman Nicole Parra.
Originally, the well water (from Well No. 9) was filtered to remove contaminants, however, the pump system failed and there are no funds available for repair. Well No. 10 lacks a sanitary seal, so the Alpaugh Irrigation District puts a higher concentration of chlorine in the water. There is a standing boil order in effect.
At the end of January, the district announced that it is committed to either complete construction of Well No. 10 or to returning Well No. 9 to service. The district does not normally manage potable water issues.
What this says about the country, the state of California or Tulare County, I leave to the social scientists and political pundits. I will posit here that we of the water treatment and purification industry can and should continue our relief efforts for the tsunami victims—yet to bear in mind there is tremendous need right here at home.
We will shortly gather in Las Vegas at a show unlike any other in our industry’s history. Residential, commercial and industrial products and services all under one roof; attendees ranging from independent distributors and consultants to municipal water managers and global manufacturers. I urge you to connect, both for the potential to benefit your own business goals and to better share your expertise for the benefit of others. Today, your company may not have aspirations beyond the borders of your town …yet tomorrow may bring commercial opportunities that span the nation. Or the globe.
Stop by our booth at WQA Aquatech 2005. I want to meet you and learn about what you’re doing now, what you think of the show and where you are headed in the months to come.
Karen R. Smith, WC&P Executive Editor