Drink up, the water's fine

2017-11-11 | The Virgin Islands Daily News

Nov. 10--Documents show the city of Victoria's water did not have bacteria despite an outage caused by Hurricane Harvey and a subsequent boil water notice.

The city reported the outage as well as the boil water notice on its Facebook page Aug. 26.

City officials said the boil water notice was issued because of a loss of pressure to the system.

Water began moving in the system again late Aug. 27, Public Works Director Donald Reese said.

His department collected samples from 10 sites from the water system on Aug. 30, 20 sites on Sept. 1 and 13 sites on Sept. 5.

The samples were sent to B Environmental, a lab in Victoria accredited by the state to test water for bacteria.

That lab did not find Total Coliform or E. coli in the samples.

The Victoria County Public Health Department has a lab that tests for Total Coliform and E. coli in public and private water wells.

On its website, the department describes Total Coliform as bacteria that are found in the soil, in the water that has been influenced by surface water, and in human or animal waste. E. coli is a type of fecal coliform commonly found in the intestines of warm blooded animals and humans. The presence of E. coli in water is a strong indication of recent sewage or animal waste contamination.

"Even if it comes back as being present (which it did not in this case), it doesn't necessarily mean that there's something harmful in the water. It just means that if these organisms can live in it, there's a possibility that something else can live in it as well," Reese said.

B Environmental also found the chlorine residual in the city's water system ranged from 1 to 3.8 milligrams per liter for the same dates.

Reese said the chlorine residual must be a minimum 0.5 milligrams per liter.

"We normally try to keep it around 2 (milligrams per liter) because you have some lines that are farther out in the distribution system and they may not have as many people on those lines so the water doesn't get turned over as fast," he said.

Reese said there was a variety of reasons why the city did not collect samples of its water on the other days it was under a boil water notice.

"One is that we were informed that the labs were not ready to receive samples until Aug. 30 due to the hurricane. Also, we could not reach some of our sample sites due to downed power lines and trees," he said.

Reese added the city also did not collect samples and submit them for testing on the days the lab gave the city results from a previous test and on the days the lab was closed for business.

"And on Monday, Sept. 4, my staff was focused on other areas since we had already proven that our bacteriological samples were good and that the only thing keeping us in the boil water notice was the high turbidity," he said.

When the water became clear enough to meet state standards on Sept. 5, city staff collected samples of it from 13 sites from the water system.

B Environmental tested those samples and did not find Total Coliform and E. coli.

After the city received those results from B Environmental on Sept. 6, it lifted the boil water notice.

Reese said the water was initially cloudy because rain washed dirt and debris down the banks of the Guadalupe River. He said the city's off channel reservoirs, which are gravel quarries where the water settles before being pumped and treated, were inundated.

"When you're in a situation like that, where the river inundates your (off channel reservoirs), you're kind of at the mercy of Mother Nature," Reese said.

Another way to make the water clearer is to increase a chemical going into the water at the surface water treatment plant. That chemical makes the particles stick together so they can fall to the bottom.

"But even that's limited, because if you start adding too much coagulation, it causes problems with the rest of your treatment. It's a balancing act," Reese said.

He said one pump that added that chemical was inadvertently turned off. Although the pump was switched back on within a few hours, he said that caused more of a delay to the city lifting the boil water notice.

In 2016, the city of Victoria's water system met or exceeded all state and federal water quality standards.

2016 Drinking Water Quality Report by Victoria Advocate on Scribd

Victoria water samples-Harvey.pdf by Victoria Advocate on Scribd