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State Official: Faulty Reservoir System Contributed To Poway

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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.

Speaker 1: 00:00 The water problem in Poway will apparently require a big fix since the downpour at the end of last week, residents have noticed something wrong with the water. It came out of some faucets with a brownish tinge in the city of Poway restaurants close to school lunches were outsourced. The city distributed bottled water and Poway issued its first ever boiled water order. The source of the problem has been found, but the fix required by the state is more complicated than city officials were expecting. Joining me is KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman. Matt, welcome. Hey Maureen, you've been reporting on this story for a couple of days. What is the water like in Poway?

Speaker 2: 00:39 So if you go to the water and power right now, like we were at Lake Poway a couple days ago, turn on the faucet. It's, it's clear, you know, there's no Brown tinge to it. They've gotten that part figured out. So right now the water is not Brown, but there's still some concerns about, uh, some of, uh, of what's inside the water, the, that they found that there's no bacteria, but some of the chlorine levels are a little low. Um, and the state says that that could mean that there's still something in the system that's like eating those chlorine. Um, so, uh, there's still some testing going on, but, uh, as of right now, the water they think is pretty safe. And, but it did look pretty bad originally. Yeah, it did look pretty bad. It was, it was Brown. Um, and that's obviously we know now that's because stormwater was able to, uh, infiltrate that already treated water.

Speaker 1: 01:17 How did that happen? How did it get contaminated?

Speaker 2: 01:20 Right. So stick with me here for a second. So basically, um, there's storm drains that connect, uh, to the city's treated a reservoir of water. It's called their Clearwell. Um, and during the storms last week, um, the, those storm drains were overwhelmed and there was a hatch that got stuck. Um, and that basically poured storm water into the treated water. Um, now, uh, there's a much bigger issue there than just that flap coming down. Uh, the state basically told us yesterday in a story that we broke that, uh, that's out of compliance. That storm drain should not be connected to, um, uh, especially treated reservoirs to prevent issues like this contamination issues like this from happening.

Speaker 1: 01:57 I'll talk to you more about that later, but let, let me find out from you. How have people been reacting to this?

Speaker 2: 02:03 Right. Lots of mixed reactions. Um, uh, we've been the Poway there's like, they have these long waterlines at Lake Poway and city hall where they city says they've given out over a million bottles of water, um, and you can get a case per car. We had a chance to talk to a number of people there, a lot of people there, um, at least before this news came out yesterday, they were like, Hey, you know, the city of power is doing a great job. Um, you know, they're really jumping on this. Uh, there's some people who are like, Hey, you know, we just want to know what it is. Um, and that, and we were trying to figure out what it is to, um, my Monday before they said it was this storm drain, but they didn't give all the details. Um, so people there, you know, some of them are just thinking like, Hey, the city's doing a great job. Uh, but at least on social media yesterday after this came out, a lot of people really rip and Poway saying, Oh my goodness, I knew there was some problem here. A lot of people saying, how could that storm water get into that treated water? What we know now?

Speaker 1: 02:46 Yeah. And businesses are also suffering. Well businesses just have to take the loss or will they be compensated in some way?

Speaker 2: 02:53 Right. Yeah. So the city of [inaudible] did not close those businesses, but the County health department stepped in and said that water is not safe to use under this water advisory. So all basically all the restaurants they had to close down, some of those have been able to reopen under a temporary permit. They just have to do all of their preparation offsite. Like a couple of pizzerias that I believe the in and out up there too. But it appears that businesses that are just going to have to take the loss here. I mean, I don't know if there's a remedy for them, but I mean, maybe they can try to contact the city, but I don't think the County is going to be giving them any reimbursement here.

Speaker 1: 03:20 So now the state inspectors say the water system is not in compliance. Meanwhile, the city I believe is flushing out the water system. Right? So what does this mean for the city of Poway?

Speaker 2: 03:32 Right. What it means is that there's going to be a multimillion dollar capital improvement project on the horizon that the city's acknowledged that they need to do a, that's going to be something that requires a city council vote. Uh, and uh, and when we say capital improvement project, it means it's something that they're going to need to plan for. Um, they've already made the temporary fix. Uh, they're out of compliance in terms of the storm drains being connected to that treated reservoir. They made a temporary fix that the state has gone out and they've inspected and they say, that's good to go. Like the recent storms, the recent rains we had just yesterday day before they said, that's not going to impact the water there. Uh, but the future going forward, like I said, um, the state official told me it's going to be capital improvement project. The city of Poway did acknowledge that. Um, and it's something that they're going to have to address. It's going to be a multimillion dollar project and ultimately taxpayers are gonna be the ones footing the bill here.

Speaker 1: 04:16 What was [inaudible] response when they found this out? About the, what the state regulators were saying,

Speaker 2: 04:22 they were shocked, uh, surprised, uh, and they were unhappy. Um, and we had a chance to talk to Steve boss yesterday and here's some of his comments about, excuse me, the mayor of Poway. Here's some of his comments, uh, reacting to what that state official said about them being out of compliance.

Speaker 3: 04:36 Oh, stunned by it because just a couple months ago, in September, we had a, a, uh, annual report of sorts, no mention of this, uh, storm drain Clearwell a noncompliance issue. That's been an operation over 50 years. Never in those 50 years. Has there been any mention of that? So yeah, I'm stunned and frustrated.

Speaker 1: 04:57 Is the fact that it's been in place for 50 years, one of the problems maybe,

Speaker 2: 05:01 uh, I mean it seems like, I mean, would you just look at it to the outset? You know, you talk about, you know, a storm overflow drain right next to the treated water. I mean, that doesn't make a whole lot of sense just on paper. Um, and, uh, the city obviously very unhappy now. Part of what they, they, they, they keep saying is that, Oh, you know, uh, the state visited our site, uh, to do, I think it was like a sanitary, uh, inspections and 2018, 20, 19. Now I haven't done any digging on that. We don't know for sure what they were looking at and we don't know if they were looking at this and they just missed it. Um, but obviously the city of Poway saying that, Hey, we've had this open for 50 years. No one's ever said anything about it. We didn't think we were doing anything wrong. Uh, I know the mayor says he's still drinking the water, but you know, as of right now, at least city officials or state officials are saying that, you know, don't drink the water right now. Just wait until we get the all clear.

Speaker 1: 05:42 And when will they give the all clear

Speaker 2: 05:44 tests are coming back. Good. The, there's no bacteria, low chlorine levels, which is a little bit concerning, at least for this, from the state's perspective. Uh, but if the test keep going, well, uh, right now the estimate is tomorrow. Friday should be the day that everything. Well, um, but if there is some hiccups that could be, be pushed back to Saturday or Sunday or even longer, but it looks like Friday, right now is the day that boil water advisory will be lifted. Residents, the County says we'll be able to reopen on their own. They just need to flush their system. They don't need to wait to come out to have somebody inspect it. Um, so Friday, hopefully tomorrow is a day tomorrow. Okay. We've been speaking with KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman. Matt. Thank you. Thanks Maureen.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.