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State blasts Fayette Water System

Now, something more than just the water smells.

The Fayette County Water System has been ticketed for 10 violations of Georgia’s safe drinking water rules, ranging from faulty monitoring of filters and water disinfectants at water treatment plants to a lack of appropriately-certified personnel running the two treatment plants and plant operations being conducted by uncertified, unsupervised personnel.

Along with the 10 rule violations, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division published a list of 147 deficiencies in the water system that need to be addressed, including 61 problems at the Crosstown Water Treatment Plant alone. Of those 61 violations at the Crosstown plant, 31 dealt with equipment that needed to be repaired, modified or installed.

EPD has determined the situation is so dire that it is recommending a probe of five water system employees to determine if they “practiced fraud or deception,” or perhaps instead were “incompetent or unable to perform their duties properly.” That investigation would be undertaken by the Georgia Secretary of State’s office and also the State Board of Examiners for Certification of Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant Operators and Laboratory Analysts.

EPD says the probe should target five water system employees: System Director Tony Parrott, Assistant Water Director Russell Ray, Water Plant Manager Bill McKinley, and water plant maintenance staffers Derek Broce and Darrell Hallford.

The violations and deficiencies were published in a report of the EPD’s sanitary survey review of the entire water system, which was conducted in June on the heels of an extended problem with taste and odor problems with the water that began in May and lasted for several weeks. The report is dated July 25.

According to the report, the source of the taste and odor problems which began in May and took weeks to subside “was determined to originate at the Crosstown Water Treatment Plant.”

The EPD report noted that at the Crosstown plant, several of the filters’ media had separated from the wall and had “excessive mud-ball formation.”

“This is a sign of ineffective backwashing and poor maintenance,” according to EPD’s report. Because of this, EPD is requiring the water system to conduct “a complete filter evaluation on all of the filters by a licensed professional engineer.”

Four of the plant’s filters had leaking valves and another filter had “been out of service for six months,” according to the report.

The largest-reaching rule violation cited by EPD alleges that the water system failed to “ensure that the drinking water should not contain any contaminant which will adversely affect the odor or appearance of the drinking water and consequently may cause a substantial number of the persons served by the public water system to discontinue its use or which may adversely affect the public welfare.”

Fayette County Commission Chairman Steve Brown said he is concerned about the EPD allegations against water system employees and the public’s ability to have confidence in the county’s drinking water.

“I’m concerned and we’re going to talk about it when [County Administrator Steve] Rapson gets back to town,” Brown said Tuesday morning. “... We’re going to address it and there will be a very thorough discussion about what’s going on.”

Brown agreed the EPD report had a lot of issues and there is also information from other sources questioning the water system as well.

One big question is how all the necessary repairs, upgrades and new equipment will be funded.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us, there’s no doubt about that,” Brown said, adding that there is $9 million set aside for a magnetic ion exchange system to meet new federal guidelines that may perhaps come in handy for the other repairs and upgrades outlined in the EPD report.

The county already has a request for proposals out to select a consulting engineering firm to provide guidance and specialized assistance on matters involving the water system. For years and years, that engineering work has been handled by Mallet Consulting.

When the smelly and bad-tasting water issues arose in May and lingered for weeks, the county entered an emergency contract for engineering consulting services with CH2M Hill. That company is the former employer of current County Administrator Rapson.

Rapson is out of town and unavailable for comment. Water System Director Tony Parrott did not return a call from The Citizen Tuesday morning seeking comment on the EPD’s report.

Among the rule violations listed by the EPD include:

• Failure to provide daily continuous disinfectant residual readings for the last three years;

• Failure to employ a Class I Water Operator to be the official in charge of day to day operations of the Crosstown and South Fayette water plants;

• Failure to record the results of individual filter monitoring every 15 minutes; the turbidimeters at the Crosstown plant were not calibrated between Feb. and Oct. 2012 though they are required to be conducted quarterly;

• Failure of the continuous turbidity monitoring equipment, specifically at filter no. 5 at the Crosstown plant which was out for more than five days “and the water plant personnel were unaware this situation existed until it was brought to their attention. The monthly operating report did not indicate a problem with any of the filters,” which is also a reporting violation; and

• Failure to properly conduct analysis of the daily concentration of chlorite due to the improper use of a particular gas used in the process.

Other rule violations were as mundane as failure to have a business plan for the water system and a failure to keep copies of “any written reports, summaries or communications relating to sanitary surveys of the system conducted by the system itself, by a private consultant, or by any local, state or federal agency.” The sanitary survey documents are required to be kept for at least 10 years, according to EPD.

Some of the deficiencies at Crosstown WTP were related to disposal of empty chemical containers and appropriate labeling of chemical packages along with labeling certain equipment. The water system must also establish a training program to “bring all operators up to date with operations of he plant, current regulations and safety procedures.”

Although deficiencies were also identified at the South Fayette Water Treatment Plant, they were not as extensive or intensive as the list for the Crosstown WTP. At the South Fayette WTP, deficiencies included updating and recording of all maintenance activities, labeling all chemical bulk storage and day tanks, evaluating media depth in filters and replenishing to design specifications and removal of chemicals, cleaning equipment and supplies from the electrical room.

Consequently, the South Fayette WTP scored a 76.6 percent on the sanitary survey, giving it a rating of “satisfactory performance” while the Crosstown plant scored a 69.4 percent, earning a rating of “concerned performance.”

The water system has 45 days from the date of the report to respond to EPD with measures that will be taken to correct the deficiencies.

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