The City of Englewood received notice of a violation of water regulations from the Colorado public-health department in late July, just a week before the city had to warn residents to boil water to …
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After Englewood’s boil-water advisory was issued on Aug. 4 following the finding of E. coli in water in a section of the city — based on samples collected two days earlier — news coverage from TV station KCNC-CBS4 had questioned why the boil-water advisory didn’t come sooner given the timing of when the water sample was taken.
A state health official appeared to address that question in the Aug. 6 announcement that lifted the boil-water advisory just before noon.
“Englewood followed the appropriate protocols and required regulatory processes that have been established for decades. On Aug. 2, the City of Englewood collected 11 water samples according to routine water-monitoring processes,” Ron Falco, safe drinking water program manager for the state public-health department, said in the announcement.
Sample results are available 24 hours after the test is performed, according to an earlier city statement.
“The lab provided results on Aug. 3 indicating E. coli at one sample location. So on Aug. 2 drinking water contamination was tentatively identified,” Falco said in the announcement.
“Such tentative identification requires repeat sampling to confirm the situation, as single false-positive test results do occur," Falco continued. "The city completed the repeat sampling process on Aug. 3. The results received on Aug. 4 confirmed the presence of E. coli in drinking water in the affected area (water Zone 1), and that’s when we issued the boil advisory.
“Based on these facts, i.e. one positive test result among so many negative test results, the city took the proper steps and conducted the public notice at the right time,” Falco added.
“We understand that this issue has caused disruption to our customers and appreciate their patience and understanding as we have worked to correct the issue,” Englewood Utilities Director Pieter Van Ry said in the announcement. “When a system issue such as this occurs, our top priority is keeping the community safe.”
The City of Englewood received notice of a violation of water regulations from the Colorado public-health department in late July, just a week before the city had to warn residents to boil water to avoid possible E. coli infection, according to city officials.
The broken regulation cited by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment centered on a type of precaution called “backflow testing” — and the city just achieved compliance in the early part of this August.
But although Englewood was out of compliance until around the time it had to issue a boil-water advisory, the violation isn't what led to the E. coli contamination, city officials say.
“The two are not linked,” said Pieter Van Ry, director of the Englewood Utilities Department. “This (the E. coli contamination) was a residential meter assembly issue, not a backflow issue, at a home where we collected the water sample.”
On the afternoon of Aug. 4, the city announced that it found a sample of drinking water that tested positive for E. coli, instructing Englewood residents across a large section of the city to boil water before using it.
The city issued a boil-water advisory for “Zone 1” of the city's water distribution system, which includes north, northwest, central and southwest Englewood. E. coli bacteria can make people sick and is of particular concern to people with weakened immune systems, officials said.
The announcement complicated life in Englewood, with at least some grocery-store water shelves cleared out and residents driving to Englewood Civic Center to pick up free water at a distribution site operated by city workers.
After lifting the boil-water warning, the city advised residents and businesses to run water through all their faucets for at least five minutes and to replace water filters on appliances.
"The city is developing a reimbursement program to rebate some or all costs associated with replacing water filters on devices such as refrigerator water dispensers, sink faucets and coffee makers in homes following the boil water notice," the city said on Twitter.
The city added: "The reimbursement program should be up and running by Aug. 11. For now, please keep all receipts associated with purchases of these water filters."
The day after Englewood issued its boil-water advisory, Denver TV channel KCNC-CBS4 reported that Englewood's water utility was recently found to be in violation for issues with its backflow testing.
“Backflow” means an “unwanted flow” of liquid, substances or contaminants in the reverse direction, according to a state public-health department fact sheet.
“In regards to a public water supply it is when the flow of water reverses direction and mixes back with the potable water,” the fact sheet says.
But the backflow compliance issue was not related to the finding of E. coli, Van Ry told the Englewood Herald.
“The backflow recordkeeping compliance issue is for commercial and industrial customers who are required to submit testing certification of their backflow devices to the city,” Van Ry said.
Asked what might have caused the positive E. coli sample, the city noted that it identified a “leaking meter assembly in a (water) meter pit at the sample site,” according to Chris Harguth, a city spokesperson.
“Crews replaced the meter assembly and pit in its entirety stopping the leak. Upon completion of this replacement, an additional sample was taken from the sample location. The sample results indicated an absence of total coliform and E. coli,” a statement from Harguth said.
The city is unable to “definitively say right now that the leaking water meter assembly was the cause of the issue,” Van Ry said.
“What we can say is that once we fixed the leak and replaced the meter assembly, the test came back negative,” Van Ry added.
City officials were unaware of the cause of the leak as of Aug. 6, Van Ry said. Englewood is weighing a new inspection policy in light of the emergency.
“At this time, staff inspects meters only at times when they are required to access the meter pit to perform a monthly read,” Van Ry said. “The city is currently evaluating a more frequent meter inspection protocol as a result of this event.”
In Englewood, most of the water meter system operates on a "radio read" technology where a transponder sends usage information to a meter reader employee remotely, where they pick up the information on a handheld electronic device, Van Ry said. When the transponder's battery is dead, the meter cannot be read remotely, which is when the technician will then look into the meter pit to get a reading, Van Ry said.
"These are the situations right now when we inspect the meter pit," Van Ry said. "This is where we are considering a change to our process to increase that frequency of inspection."
CBS4 also reported that Englewood's water utility was recently found to be in violation regarding its inspection plans for its water storage tanks.
That violation was identified for a few reasons, officials say: The city's storage tank inspection plans not identifying an alternate schedule for inspections of elevated storage tanks, the justifications for why Englewood is using an alternate schedule, and the inspection checklists not making clear when a full or partial inspection was done.
“Although the tank inspections were being performed, the tank inspection plans did not mention the use of an alternate schedule or justifications why,” the statement from Harguth said.
For that problem, a violation was issued March and resolved in April, according to the city.
“The alternate tank inspection issue is not linked to the E. coli contamination event,” Harguth's statement said.
Englewood received a violation notice from the state public-health department about the backflow testing issue on July 27.
“Compliance with this (backflow testing) requirement was achieved in August 2021. We are working with (the state public-health department) to document current compliance,” Harguth's statement said.
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