Bethel Cited For Water Violations

Front Page / Sep. 28, 2017 9:13am EDT

Provisional Permit Orders Improvements
By Tim Calabro and Dylan Kelley

Following a March 2016 state inspection, the Town of Bethel was given a revised water system permit that enumerates a number of violations and includes orders to remediate those violations going forward.

On September 15, the town received a letter from Patrick Smart, operations section supervisor of the state’s Drinking Water and Groundwater Protection Division, advising of the amended permit.

Bethel, like any organization that operates a public water system, is subject to state water supply rules as well as the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. As such, Smart said in a phone interview Monday, operators are subject to a so-called sanitary survey every two-and-a-half to three years. That survey was conducted by the state on March 29, 2016. After correspondence concerning the survey’s findings, the revised permit was issued earlier this month.

The permit outlines five categories of violations that must be remedied.

Top concerns, Smart said, are that the system may not be able to meet the minimum statutory pressure requirements and that one of two water storage tanks is in dire need of replacement.

Water systems must be able to maintain a minimum pressure of 20 pounds per square inch under “all flow conditions.”

“Bethel’s distribution system hydraulics can’t support that with their fire hydrants,” Smart said.

When pressure becomes too low, Smart indicated, the system can become vulnerable to non-potable water finding its way into the distribution system.

Of equal importance, Smart said, is that a water storage tank located on the hill above Bethel Village is past the end of its useful life. The permit describes “penetrations” in the structure’s roof, “not only making it non-watertight, but structurally inadequate.”

Multiple Issues

Further violations include water testing samples taken at the incorrect location, non-functional storage tank monitoring systems, and failure to follow the town’s own approved system flushing schedule.

The location for taking water samples, Smart said, is likely not a health concern, but is nonetheless out of compliance with the law.

Regulations require that samples be taken after treatment, but before water reaches the first customer.

“Right now they don’t have that ability, so they’ve been collecting measurements from the town office, for example, which is within the system. I would say that the data that they’re providing right now is confident that their disinfection treatment is working, but it doesn’t meet the letter of the requirements that are in place.”

During the 2016 sanitary survey, Bethel told the inspectors that solar powered tank alarms were inoperable. Smart said that the town was asked to repair those alarms, which never happened.

Flushing of the system, a routine maintenance operation, has also apparently not taken place.

While the ideal flushing schedule can vary greatly from system to system, Smart said that flushing annually would be a good rule of thumb.

“That’s kind of the sniff test, if you will. If that’s not happening, something doesn’t smell right.”

The state of the Bethel water system is far from unique.

The mostly unseen public service has a tendency to go unnoticed, Smart said. That has led to a great deal of deferred maintenance and sudden scrambles to repair and replace when infrastructure fails.

“If the question is … does this really need improvement? I would say yes,” Smart said. “I don’t think Bethel is unique in the magnitude or the scope of the issues that they’re facing.”

Deadlines

According to the water system’s revised permit, Bethel must create a new flushing schedule no later than November 1. If there’s a reason that flushing hasn’t been occurring, Smart said, this deadline will offer an opportunity to cite concerns, otherwise the schedule should be adhered to.

By the end of January, the town must submit a preliminary engineering report to the Drinking Water and Groundwater Protection Division, providing a “comprehensive evaluation” of the system’s infrastructure and a plan to remediate its deficiencies.

According to Smart, these types of conditional permits usually do yield results in improving a water system.

However, if the town takes no action, it would be found in noncompliance with the permit and the state would take enforcement action, such as opening a case in Environmental Court.

This type of action typically only happens in extreme cases, Smart said.

“I think the water department— and the issues in the water department— are a high priority,” said Bethel Town Manager Greg Maggard in a telephone interview late Wednesday. “But we’ve also got other things like streets and parks and everything else that we’re also taking care of,” he added. “I think everything has a priority, it just has to be compartmentalized a little bit.”

Maggard says he’s currently working to address the water system’s multiple deficiencies by applying for a grant to allow the town to create a “water master plan” that would allow for additional improvements to be made in the near future, before any enforcement action by the state is necessary.

“The permit gives us parameters as to when we have to have things done,” said Maggard. “They understand that we’re not shoving this under the rug. They know that we’re also concerned about it and we want to make things right also … I think everybody in town should be aware that we know there are issues.”

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