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Poway To Be Cited For Faulty Reservoir System That Contributed To Water Contamination

Water in a sink inside a bathroom at Lake Poway, Dec. 2, 2019.

Photo by Matt Hoffman

Above: Water in a sink inside a bathroom at Lake Poway, Dec. 2, 2019.

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The city's storm drain and reservoir connections are not in compliance with state regulations and contributed to the contamination of the city's water system, a state official told KPBS.

Aired: December 5, 2019 | Transcript

The recent contamination of Poway's water was caused in part by storm drain and reservoir connections that are not in compliance with state regulations, a state official told KPBS Wednesday.

The system was overwhelmed during last week's rains and stormwater flowed into a reservoir of treated water that was then piped into homes and businesses, according to Sean Sterchi, the San Diego District Engineer for the state's Water Resources Control Board Division of Drinking Water.

Listen to this story by Matt Hoffman.

"We’ll be issuing a citation to take corrective action to meet the current water standards which require that the [reservoir] not be directly connected to the storm drain," Sterchi said.

The revelation comes after residents reported brown tap water over the weekend, leading city officials to issue a boil water notice to residents and handed out hundreds of thousands of bottles of water. The county health department also ordered the closure of restaurants in the city. The boil water notice is still in effect and the restaurants remain closed.

RELATED: Backed-Up Storm Drain Caused Poway’s Water Contamination

City officials, who are preparing an incident report on the contamination to submit to the state, were caught off-guard by Sterchi's statements.

Rene Carmichael, a city spokeswoman, said this is the first they've heard of the system being out of compliance and haven't had conversations with state officials about the need for long-term corrective actions. She pointed to a report filed by water resources control board officials after visits to the facility in January 2018 and April of this year.

"There was nothing flagged in that report about being out of compliance," Carmichael said in an emailed statement. "This facility was built in the 1960s and this is the first we're hearing of it."

Although the incident report is not finished, Sterchi said the state has seen enough to determine that the system is out of compliance.

"Based on information that we’ve gathered so far — confirming that there is actually a cross-connection between the storm drain and the finished [reservoir]."

The city has already made short-term fixes for the problem, including bolting down overflow hatches and creating new seals — all of which have been inspected by the state. Officials do not anticipate that coming rains will contaminate water again.

Sterchi said the water restrictions will be in effect at least until Friday and possibly as late as Sunday. The city is working to flush the system of contaminants and officials are conducting more tests and analyzing results, he said.

"While the bacterial water quality tests so far have shown that they're okay there are other water quality perimeters we're looking at," Sterchi said, adding that low chlorine levels in the water could indicate that the system is still contaminated.

Sterchi said the long-term fix of the problem will likely require a large-scale repair project that will cost millions of dollars. Poway officials stressed that the system will be secure in the interim.

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Photo of Matt Hoffman

Matt Hoffman
General Assignment Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI am a general assignment reporter for KPBS. In addition to covering the latest news and issues that are relevant to the San Diego community, I like to dig deeper to find the voices and perspectives that other media often miss.

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