Water District’s Issues point to a big California Problem
In late May, a routine E. coli test by a Butte City water district drinking water technician came back positive and what he found when he investigated the source of the problem, as described in court documents, could be a case study in how poor management can endanger the lives of those drinking tap water from any one of the small water districts scattered across California. Leo, the drinking water technician, found cows grazing in the park where the town’s barely-functioning well and pump were housed. The area around the well was muddy and littered with cow manure, a common source of E. coli fecal bacteria, and the well’s bacteria-killing chlorine pump was broken. Loe alleged in court documents that the water district’s board president, Jesus Campos, was the only person listed on emergency-contact forms to handle emergencies like these and that Campos was on vacation and left his cell phone behind when he tried to contact Campos. In a declaration filed by state attorneys in Glenn County Superior Court, Leo stated,
Mud and feces were tracked into the well shed. I also found mud on pipes. The mud was from where the cows had been watering and defecating.
Luckily, no cases of E. coli infection were reported to the local health department and Loe was able to flush the water lines with potent chlorine and hook up a temporary chlorination system. A boil-water order issued by the state was rescinded the next day after a follow-up E. coli test came back clean. The E. coli scare was the latest in a string of problems at the Butte City Community Services District stretching back years. The district had been repeatedly cited and failed to respond to a pile of state drinking-water safety citations.
State water officials say California has too many small water utilities, and they account for the majority of the state’s drinking-water violations. California has about 3,000 community water systems and around 2,100 of those serve fewer than 500 homes. Almost 80 percent of the citations state regulators issue each year go to these little districts. State officials estimate that 300 economically disadvantaged California communities are served by a water system that doesn’t meet standards for safe tap water. Unfortunately, many of the water districts are underfunded and understaffed. Something must be done to ensure that people are getting clean drinking water to avoid health issues in communities across California.