Tuesday, May 10, 2016

County boil water notice: incurious Record article

Record's incurious coverage of massive boil water notice by St. Johns County utilities leaves much to be desired.

Procedures may be responsible for positive E. Coli test on water
Posted: May 9, 2016 - 9:33pm | Updated: May 10, 2016 - 5:15am


The St. Johns County Utility Department believes human error is responsible for an E. coli sample found in the County Road 214 Water System late last week.

One of eight raw water tanks tested positive for the bacteria, prompting a systemwide boil-water notice that went into effect late Friday evening and lasted into the weekend.

“We don’t know if it could have been how the sample was taken or maybe the bottle it was put in was contaminated,” said Bill Young, the county utility director.

The utility department and the water treatment system immediately alerted the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in Jacksonville and took the contaminated well out of service.

Young said it was the first time the water treatment plant had encountered an E. coli threat from the wells.

“[The FDEP office] we work with routinely hadn’t seen this situation a lot either,” Young said. “They ended up calling their head office in Tallahassee to make sure they were interpreting everything correctly.”

Around 10 p.m. on Friday, Young said Code Red calls were issued to SJCU customers south of C.R. 214 and in Anastasia Island.

People with private wells or residing in Ponte Vedra, World Golf Village, State Road 16 Corridor, Eagle Creek, Fruit Cove and Bartram Oaks were unaffected.

According to Barry Stewart, the water division manager for SJCU, 60 additional samples were taken between Friday night and Saturday once the notice was activated.

“But there was never any indication of E. coli in the distribution system,” Stewart said.

Repeat samples were taken from the contaminated well, but none tested positive for the bacteria.

“Most likely the error came from human processing, either in collection or at the lab,” said Nathan Mitrosky, the lead operator at the C.R. 214 Water Treatment Plant.

Mitrosky said it’s very unlikely bacteria could infiltrate the wells, which range 400 to 500 feet into the Florida aquifer.

He added that the water treatment process in the distribution system would have eliminated any E. coli threats.

“But it’s better safe than sorry when it comes to the health of the public,” Mitrosky said. “We felt it was better to tell everyone that it’s precautionary.”

Once the samples were processed and passed, the boil-water notice was retracted Sunday afternoon.

Although Young said it’s not uncommon for boil-water notices to occur in isolated incidents due to water line breaks or maintenance, a systemwide notice is rare.

“Never before has something shown up in a raw well sample,” Young said. “The public water supply is very important. We take it very seriously.”

Young said there will be a conference call with FDEP to discuss the incident and the process of future sampling procedures.

“What we’re talking about internally is beefing up our sampling process. You don’t want to risk any bacteria into the water samples because this could be the result,” Young said. “The confidence of our customers is important.”

sponger2 05/10/16 - 12:03 am 62Not the brown one Earl! Not the brown one!
Jed exclaimed as Earl turned the wheel that controlled the viscous liquid in the brown pipe instead of the clear liquid controlled by the wheel in the blue pipe, as Jed had instructed. So ended Earl's training for the day, and the rest was history.

Firstcoaster 05/10/16 - 08:16 am 14No Apology?
Where is the apology? Y'all made 1,000s of residents jump through hoops, i.e. boiling water, buying more bottled water, taking many precautions for what many of us thought wasn't necessary in the first place.

All you can come up with is "better safe than sorry?"

The winners: The grocery stores selling bottled water.

Denny O 05/10/16 - 11:26 am 21Thanks for handling problem appropriately
It is easy for the public to be upset over the handling of the E-coli in the water supply. Having noted this I REALLY think that the county did exactly what it “needed to do based on the information on hand”. It was unfortunate that it occurred at all, but being proactive in notifying the population of the possibility of a problem was critical, least the problem was real. I think the process was handled in an excellent manner.

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