Some San Tan Valley residents have had concerns about Johnson Utilities before, but the latest situation involving a recent E.coli scare has left a number of them swearing off tap water for good.
Mary Porter, a San Tan Valley resident, has her own water testing kit at home. Porter said good drinking water is supposed to come up as containing less than 100 parts per million of contaminants — a categorization that can include bacteria, chemicals and minerals — during a test. Her San Tan Valley tap water usually tests at more than 500 parts per million.
Porter started buying bottled water and has encouraged her six children to avoid drinking the tap water. But her “stubborn” 16-year-old son refuses to drink bottled water and became violently ill in August, she said. He experienced 10 days of stabbing stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea, Porter said.
“It was the worst stomachache he’s had in his life,” she said.
After five days of keeping her son home from school, Porter received a message from the Florence Unified School District saying that Johnson Utilities had found E.coli samples during a routine test.
“When they discovered E.coli, they didn’t tell us that day,” Porter said. “They waited four or five days before telling us.”
Like several San Tan Valley residents, Porter was angry that Johnson Utilities didn’t notify her sooner and that she had to hear about the possible contamination from the school.
Jolene Peterson said her entire family of six was sick with E.coli-like symptoms on and off for about two weeks.
“The strange thing was that we couldn’t get rid of it,” Peterson said. “We made sure the house was sanitized, that there was soap and hand sanitizer in the bathrooms, we added bleach to the dishwasher and washed our dishes on the high-temp cycle, washed clothes on hot and over-monitored the kids to make sure they were practicing safety with germs.”
When Peterson got an email from Florence Unified School District saying there was a possibility that there was E.coli in her water, she immediately stopped using the tap water and bought a cooler and water bottles.
After about a day of not using tap water, Peterson’s family stopped experiencing illness, she said.
“Since we had been on bottled water, all the symptoms have disappeared and not come back,” Peterson said. “Had we known sooner, we could have saved ourselves some time, money and a lot of frustration and discomfort.”
San Tan Valley resident Alden Weight, who also found out about the possible contamination through the school district, represented 332 displeased Johnson Utilities customers on a petition sent in early September to Congressman Jeff Flake.
The residents who signed it expressed concern that they were not properly notified of possible contamination and requested that the Environmental Protection Agency’s public notice rules, last changed in 2000, be updated to include electronic communication.
“Looking over the law as it now is, it’s frankly difficult to tell whether Johnson Utilities kept it or broke it,” Weight wrote in a cover letter to Flake. “If they can send us a bill electronically, they should be able to send us an email.”
Some residents received notification that the warning had been lifted through email, but very few had received the warning in the first place, Weight said.
Johnson Utilities told customers that people had been contacted, but would not specify who or how, Weight said.
“They have told us they didn’t believe the test results were valid and that we were upset about nothing,” he said.
“We definitely would have appreciated direct and immediate notification that there was at least a risk of it. If they don’t think there really is a possibility, at least tell us that.”
Michelle is a Senior studying print and multimedia journalism at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Contact her at (480) 898-6514 or firstname.lastname@example.org