The Pima County Department of Environmental Quality is still waiting for test results that could confirm if Madera Highlands water system has been contaminated by E. coli, but several steps have been taken to address potential issues.

PDEQ spokeswoman Beth Gorman said Friday that when Farmers Water Company realized E. coli might be in the system, they "jumped on it right way," notifying the proper authorities and customers, even though the state and federal governments don't require water companies to do so until test results are confirmed.

Gorman said the company has also taken the following steps:

  • A new chlorinator was installed at the well head. This well provides a direct feed to two storage tanks.
  • Two chlorinators were installed at each of the storage tanks.
  • A backup well (not currently in use) was also sampled Thursday to rule that out as a possible contamination source.
  • Water system personnel did a thorough inspection of the distribution system (pipes that deliver the water).
  • Water system personnel inspected the storage tanks by removing the lids and using a high powered flashlight.
  • All fire hydrants are locked, which can be a source of contamination by individuals stealing water.
  • Water system personnel continue inspecting backflow devices.
  • The system already had a flushing system program in place, and continue to flush the distribution system.

On Thursday afternoon, Farmers asked 1,400 customers to boil their water after sampling showed a possible problem.

Once the new test results are in, Farmers will publish the results on their website: www.FarmersWaterCo.com.

Jennifer Lynch, environmental quality manager for the water program at PDEQ, said that water companies only need one negative test after corrective measures are taken for the water to be considered safe.

The impacted area is south of Quail Creek and east of Union Pacific Railroad.

The communities affected include Madera Highlands, Madera Reserve, Colonia Real, Pasadera, Madera Shadows, Madera Foothills Estate and homes along Camino de la Canoa. The Continental School complex and the United Community Health Center are also covered by the boil advisory.

All public water systems are required to test for E. coli each month within the distribution system, Gorman said.

"The EPA has set a limit for E. coli at zero, which means any presence of the contaminant would trigger a Boil Water Advisory and corrective actions," Gorman said.

Farmers and PDEQ continue to investigate what caused the positive E. coli test results, but E. coli commonly enters the water system through increased run-off with recent rains, breaks in pipes, or treatment failure, Gorman said.

"Positive E. coli results are rare. I would say, on average, we see one or two per year," Gorman said. "We regulate 167 public water systems in Pima County."

Bottled water is being made available to affected customers at United Community Health Center, 1260 S. Campbell Road, in Green Valley from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily as long as necessary.

Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria normally live in the intestines of healthy people and animals. Most varieties of E. coli are harmless or cause relatively brief diarrhea. A few particularly nasty strains, such as E. coli O157:H7, can cause severe abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea and vomiting.

Customers living in the affected area can call (520) 879-7474 for further information.

Kim Smith | 520-547-9740

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Assistant Editor Kim Smith moved to Arizona from Michigan when she was 16. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in journalism in 1989. She has worked at seven newspapers of varying size in Arizona, Texas and Nevada.

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