When the Fayette County Board of Commissioners said they were going to ‘own’ the problems that have arisen during their --and past-- administrations, they may not have known the extent of some of those problems.
For the past few months, the county’s water department has been fielding problems in the community concerning broken pipes, the manganese levels in the drinking water, as well as a problem in early summer with both the odor and taste of the county’s drinking water.
A week ago, the Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Division blasted the water system on at least 10 violations the county will have to address.
According to the report, water plant operations were directed by numerous managers who were not responsible for the water plant operations or held an inappropriate license to meet the classification of the water plant as required.
Uncertified personnel were performing operational duties at the well treatment plant without the direct on-site supervision of a certified operator.
The least of the allegations says the county water system doesn’t have the required business plan.
Environmental Specialist R. Wayne Jackson noted that water systems with a surface water source must record the minimum residual disinfectant concentration entering the distribution systems based on a continuous monitoring and recording of the disinfectant residual and the lowest value must be recorded each day; in the event of a failure in the continuous monitoring equipment, grab sampling every four hours may be conducted in lieu of continuous monitoring but for no more than five working days following the failure of the equipment. At the time of the survey, Jackson noted, the system couldn’t produce those daily records. He also charged the system failed to calibrate the online chlorine analyzers in compliance with EPA requirements.
Other complaints included the system didn’t use the correct nitrogen gas purge for analysis of the daily concentration of chlorite entering the distribution system; not having records of any written reports, summaries or communications relating to the sanitary surveys of the system for the past 10 years; and violating the section that requires the system to “ensure that the drinking water should not contain any contaminant which will adversely affect the odor or appearance of the drinking water and consequently may cause a substantial number of the persons served by the public water system to discontinue its use or which may adversely affect the public welfare.
A systemwide taste and odor event was investigated beginning in May and the source of the event was determined to originate at the Crosstown Water Treatment Plant.
It seemed Jackson’s review was bolstered by the findings of Dr. Stuart Jeffcoat of CH2M Hill, the water consultant the county hired to help deal with both the odor and taste problem in late May and the recent manganese problem faced by the county which caused a shut down of the water system’s treatment plants in south Fayette and on Crosstown Road.
According to Jeffcoat’s report, when he visited the water treatment plant to review the treatment process and assist in mitigating the manganese levels, he was told by the staff that the total manganese in the raw water from Lake Horton was 0.77 mg/L, however, his value was not the true raw water sample from Lake Horton, but actually the water at the wet well in the raw water pump station at the raw water reservoir located at the South Fayette water treatment plant.
Additionally, he noted, the staff had been taking water samples from Lake Horton at the wrong level to get an accurate reading. The consultant had the county begin withdrawing water from the highest intake gate level to allow the low manganese level from Horton’s surface to flow into a wet well.
Another indication of a problem at the South Fayette plant was the fact that the operations staff at the plant were incorrectly reporting the total manganese. Again, the plant operators who had been performing testing didn’t notice that the levels on the meter they were reading and indicated a warning of elevated manganese levels. These were only a handful of the discrepancies that Jeffcoat noted.
The report on the Crosstown plant wasn’t any better and led to the release of a long-time employee.
In addition to water quality problems, county commissioners complained that communication between the board and the water system - as well as with other local officials and the public- have been poor.
Fayette County board of commissioners chairman Steve Brown: “We weren’t informed, either about the plant closings or about the water main break in Peachtree City. I had to find out about from a blog comment - and then I had to call Tony to get the information. They didn’t let the board know. They didn’t let the mayor know. They didn’t let the EPD know. They didn’t send out boil water notices and we said it. It doesn’t matter that there were only 24 customers affected. It wouldn’t matter if two customers were affected. You send the notice.”
Last week, Brown turned the investigation of these allegations over to county administrator Steve Rapson.
“You don’t fool around with the drinking water,” said Brown. “From my perspective, we’re going to have to work quickly and decisively to resolve the problems. There’s no excuse for not testing the water properly or not keeping up with the maintenance of the facilities.”
On Monday, the Brooks town council announced that the Brooks water system’s 138 customers received notification from the Fayette County Water System- who is involved in an intergovernmental agreement to run that water system- it had received notice from the DNR indicating the town was in violation of water testing standards. Lead and copper sampling is required every three years. The county water system received a Notice of Violation for not collecting 10 lead and copper samples in July 2010. The Fayette County Water System started operating the Brooks Water System June 24, 2010.
In part, the notice said that since the Fayette County Water System was required to monitor the drinking water for specific contaminants, and that monitoring had not been done, the system couldn’t guarantee the quality of the drinking water between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2012.
The situation didn’t come to light until the DNR was ready for the next set of samples. The water system will collect 30 samples to meet the permit requirements, probably in August, since they have between July and September to accomplish this.
More than that, during the meeting, residents and councilmembers themselves noted water quality issues - brown water, poor pressure - which have been plaguing the town.
Five employees of the Fayette County Water System have been disciplined in response to findings associated with recent water problems, according to Rapson.
“We need to earn the public confidence lost over these past few months,” said Rapson.
Each disciplinary action includes varying Performance Improvement Plans, suspensions without pay, probationary periods, pay classification and title changes.
Senior management discipline includes completing a comprehensive communication improvement plan, implementing a corrective action plan for findings outlined in the sanitary assessment survey, developing a customer service improvement plan, updating standard operating procedures, and creating a comprehensive capital improvement plan.
In addition, “all water system personnel will undergo re-training based upon their respective Water Services Classification, along with Senior Management taking mandatory leadership a nd supervisory classes” said Rapson. The county is also in the process of reviewing bids for the Engineer of Record for the Water System and expects to bring a recommendation to the board of commissioners in September for their review and consideration.
The recent water problems have not posed a health hazard associated with the affected drinking water.
“Actions taken today will help the county obtain the standard of superior service expected by residents.”
Rapson didn’t elaborate on specific actions or employees, saying the county’s personnel plan gives the employee up to five days to respond to the action and the directors another five days to respond to that.
“We wanted to let the public know that action had been taken and assure them that we are holding people accountable, but I’m not, at this time, free to go into further detail until the process goes forward.”