Monticello residents have always boasted that Monticello has the best tasting drinking water around. But more than a month ago, residents noticed something different about their water. It smelled strongly of chlorine, tasted like chlorine, and in some cases, was discolored.
Area residents began to comment and ask questions about it on social media. A typical question: “Why does our Monticello water taste like bleach recently?” There were even photos depicting discolored water.
The cause, residents later learned, was treatment for coliform bacteria. Total coliform is a common bacteria used as a marker in water testing. In general, the bacteria is harmless but a positive test result may indicate the presence of potentially harmful bacteria.
Monticello Mayor Paige Chase released an e-mail, dated July 23, from the Arkansas Department of Health explaining the problem.
Many residents were unaware that one or more of the city’s wells had tested positive for E. coli. According to Monticello Water Department records inspected this week by Seark Today under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, the city was notified that it failed to meet the public notification requirements.
Failure to notify the public is a violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations.
In a letter dated July 1, 2019, from the Arkansas Department of Health to the Monticello Water Department, a violation of the Ground Water Rule was issued to the Monticello Water System on April 5, 2019 for one or more wells testing positive for the presence of E.coli.
“You were required to provide public notice of the violation to your customers and provide documentation of the public notice to this office. In order for your system to return to compliance these requirements must be completed.
“Continued violations under the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations, including failure to provide notification to consumers, could subject your water system to administrative penalties imposed by the Department of Health or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency… .”
You can see an image of the letter here.
Included in the documents provided to Seark Today were two unsigned, undated papers titled “Public Notice”. In addition to being unsigned and undated, the text did not appear underneath a letterhead. See images of the papers here: Public Notice 1 Public Notice 2
Also included in the batch of documents were letters notifying the city that the monthly microbiological sampling for the city’s water system had triggered Level 1 and Level 2 assessments.
A certified letter, dated June 13, 2019, from the Arkansas Department of Health to the Monticello Water Department indicated the monthly biological sampling of the city water system triggered a Level 2 assessment for the water system for May, 2019.
Under the Revised Total Coliform Rule, public water systems must conduct assessments of the water system for sanitary defects. Any defects or other possible reasons for total coliform positive sample results must be identified and corrective actions taken to eliminate sanitary risks.
According to the letter, the assessment has been conducted, sanitary defects identified on the assessment report, and the sanitary defects have been documented as being corrected. Included with the letter was a copy of the assessment report. The letter indicated that information regarding the assessment and corrective actions will be included in the city’s Consumer Confidence Report covering the 2019 calendar year.
Similar letters, one dated June 12 regarding a Level 1 assessment for April 2019, another dated April 9 regarding a Level 2 assessment for February 2019, and another dated March 21 regarding a Level 1 assessment for January 2019, were also provided. Copies of the assessment reports were included with each letter.
Earlier letters, with attached lab reports, showed that Monticello’s finished water quality is within the allowable limits of the Primary Drinking Water Standards of the Safe Drinking Water Act, though one letter, dated November 6, 2018, indicated that the sodium level in one or more of the attached lab reports is above 20 parts per million. The Arkansas Department of Health recommended that local health providers be notified of the sodium level to benefit their patients on low sodium diets. It suggested public notification through the city’s 2019 Consumer Confidence Report. Another letter, dated December 19, 2018 indicated that one or more fluoride analysis reports indicated the fluoride residual was outside the recommended range of 0.6 to 1.2 milligram per liter for fluoridated water supplies in this area. The letter urged the city to make “every effort” to maintain an optimal level of 0.7 milligrams per liter.
In the previously mentioned July 23, 2019 e-mail from Jack Gregg, Jr., an Arkansas Department of Health environmental health specialist for the southeast district, to Monticello Mayor Paige Chase, Gregg provides a summary from the Arkansas Department of Health explaining the change in the taste and odor of Monticello’s water. Below is the text of Gregg’s e-mail to the mayor.
The following is from the ADH Chief Engineer to help explain the reasoning for raising the chlorine levels in the Monticello Water system.
Public water systems in Arkansas are required to disinfect the drinking water and regularly test for Coliform bacteria. Generally, Coliform are bacteria that are not harmful but used as an indicator that other, potentially harmful, microbial pathogens could be present. Beginning in November 2018 the Monticello Waterworks water testing began indicating the presence of Coliform bacteria in a portion of the water samples each month which has continued through June 2019.
Additional testing and investigations were conducted by the Monticello Waterworks and ADH staff to help determine the cause of the presence of Coliform bacteria. At that time, Ammonia was detected as naturally occurring in the source water. When Ammonia is mixed with chlorine the disinfectant, it produces chloramines. Chloramines, when properly used, are an effective disinfectant. However, the Ammonia levels in the source water fluctuates and creates difficulty in applying the optimum level to achieve adequate disinfection and can lead to taste and odor issues.
The testing indicated that Monticello Waterworks should increase the amount of chlorine applied to target a free chlorine residual between 1 and 2 mg/l in the distribution system, a typical chlorine residual used by drinking water systems around the State and County. In order to achieve this goal, the distribution system must be adequately flushed along with the increased chlorine application to expel the older water. As this occurs, there may be areas of the distribution system that experiences some taste and odor issues until the target chlorine levels are provided throughout.