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BOIL ADVISORY MEMO
November 14, 2022
The City of Blackfoot announced a Boil Advisory on November 11, 2022. This was the third boil advisory in 13 months; October 28 ’21, April 21 ’22, and November 11 ’22. We certainly understand the impacts that this has on families and on businesses, and that a boil advisory almost every six months is not acceptable to anybody.
Municipalities that provide drinking water to its constituents are required by federal and state regulation to test water and report the test results to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). We are required by law to conduct 10 water samples each month, and we choose to take 5 samples twice per month. We have permission from a number of homeowners who allow us to take the water samples from outdoor faucets at these various properties, which are located throughout the city. Gathering water samples is a time consuming and somewhat technical process, taking 20-30 minutes at each location. Extreme care must be taken to eliminate the potential for a technician-caused contamination of the sample. Outdoor faucets are thoroughly cleaned, as is the sampling hose and test containers, all this just prior to the sampling protocol. Contamination can come from environmental conditions such as wind, rain, or snow. EPA/DEQ regulations do not give allowances for windy or rainy weather conditions. Contamination can also result from faulty lawn sprinkler systems and/or faulty (or non-existent) back flow installations. We do experience most of the test failures in the Spring, when sprinkler systems are turned on for the irrigation season and during the Fall when sprinklers are shut down and the systems are blown out with compressors. Faulty backflow devices can allow contamination back to the resident’s drinking water and may even contaminate parts of the potable water system.
We have tested the city’s wells and the test results are negative for both coliform and E. coli. The water storage tank is also negative for coliform and E. coli. This tells us that the supply source for residential and commercial drinking water is clean and whatever contamination that is indicated by test results is resulting from environmental conditions (wind or precipitation), bad testing protocol, or we actually do have coliform/E. coli in the water pipe. Our technicians have undergone training and re-training and we have ensured the efficacy of the testing kits. We have had DEQ audit our procedures and they have found no shortcomings in our sampling protocol. We are confident in the testing of the wells and storage tank.
Total coliform is generally not harmful and usually comes from environmental sources in the soil. Coliforms are bacteria, some found naturally in the environment, and some are found in fecal matter, which is Escherichia coli, or E. coli for short. Total coliform is seen as a potential precursor for E. coli. Coliforms that show up in the samples can come from an improperly sanitized faucet, contaminated test equipment, wind, rain/snow, faulty backflow device, or contamination at the water source. Even E. coli is not always harmful to humans, but EPA/DEQ regulations understandably require a low-risk approach.
Water samples are taken during the morning, and then transported to the testing laboratory in Pocatello that same afternoon. The test results are communicated to the Water Superintendent between noon and 2 pm the next day. If there is positive indication for coliform or E. coli, we are then required to pull samples again the next morning and send those to the lab for testing. Results are received the next afternoon. In this current situation, the first samples were taken Tuesday (Nov 8) and we received several positive results for coliform in the Wednesday afternoon test report. Samples were taken again Thursday (Nov10) and the results were reported to the Superintendent on Friday afternoon, but now included positives for E. coli. The Superintendent and I then met promptly to put out the Boil Advisory notification to the public. The Water Department was at work Saturday (Nov 12) to start the investigation process and also to inject chlorine to clean the pipe system, to begin flushing the system, and will continue the process into Sunday. The next round of samples will be taken on Monday Nov 14. We must achieve 2 consecutive coliform-free tests in order to lift the Boil Advisory.
After the last Boil Advisory (April 2022) it was recommended to and accepted by City Council that we begin the engineering process to treat our water with automatic chlorination injection systems. The engineering is expected to be completed in December and construction bid documents released in January 2023. We are planning that we will be treating the water system by June 2023. Our contacts at DEQ tell us that we are the only city of our size that is not treating its water. Blackfoot has been experiencing significant growth over the last several years. We are also noticing a greater than normal number of sprinkler system installs occurring. We are working on some changes to ordinances in order to enforce proper installation and regular testing of backflow prevention devices.
This is a short write-up trying to explain a complicated process. If you have questions, please email me at email@example.com or Superintendent Princton Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org
Marc Carroll, Mayor
City of Blackfoot