City reviews public notices of violation, water system

Many Claremore residents report not receiving this public notice, which the city said was mailed out to water customers with the December billing statements.

In December, Claremore residents learned the city had failed a water test and a public notice explaining the situation was forthcoming.

Per federal guidelines the city was to send out a notice alerting consumers of elevated levels of haloacetic acids. The notice was to be included in December billing statements, on Dec. 16 and Dec. 31.

But many Claremore residents say they never received the notice.

Public Works Director Jonah Humes said he knows notices were sent out.

"The notice includes a statement that if anyone has any questions, they should contact me. And I've heard from several people, so I know people have received them," Humes said during a city council meeting this week.

The council discussed the probability that those customers who receive their bill via e-mail were among those who did not receive the statement.

"If people that get bill emails are not getting their notices, there's something seriously wrong. Those people should be notified just as well as the paper bill people," said councilor Justin Michael.

Humes said it's an issue he is looking into.

Humes then went on to clear up some finer points of a recent discussion on the city's water system as a whole.

To start, the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality's test reporting methods.

"When we say we're not in violation- technically we are because of the way DEQ reports, but current conditions are not a violation," Humes said.

He said the same four sites are tested on the second month of each quarter and that any violations remain on the books as a violation for four quarters—even if the violation has been fixed.

The violation from May 2019, he said, will continue to appear as a current violation until May 2020.

"If you don't understand DEQ it will look like violation after violation after violation, technically according to their rules we are but functionally and operationally we are producing water without those high levels," he said. "And there's one new one on there that shows a violation pertaining to Chlorine, and we have been in communication with DEQ, that is a computer error on their end. We don't have a violation there."

In previous meetings, City Engineer Garrett Ball reported that one of the major improvements made to the city's water system in the past year was locating approximately 21 closed valves in the system.

Following up on that discussion, Humes wanted to explain the three main reasons for closed valves and what the city is doing to combat them.

"There are three main reasons: Crews closed the valve to stop a leak with no service lines in between. Crews forgot to open up after a shut off. Contractors did not open valves after initial installation," he said.

In response to crews forgetting Humes said crews are not marking their work on a map and flipping lids as visual reminders to return to open the valve. To combat the issue of contractors not opening valves, Humes said the city will implement a more robust inspection process.

"It's frustrating for us to find closed valves because we want to provide the best water in the system," he said. "We're making a lot of improvements in the system, we're going the right direction, even if it looks like we're breaking it more in the process."

Councilor Scott Savage added, "I developed and tapped water lines in the 70s and we were running into closed valves then. This is not something that's just happened. It's been bothering Claremore for years and years and years. It's not a new problem, it's been there a long, long time."

Wrapping up the discussion, City Manager Jim Thomas said: "Some of these valves have been closed for more than 10 years. They were under dirt. We had to find them….it wasn't intentional upon the city. It's an existing problem that's been plaguing the city for some time. We are definitely turning the corner. We're using more technology in Public Works than ever before. I don't want to make the same mistakes we made in the past."

The notice

The Progress obtained a copy of the notice, which was addressed to water customers of Claremore.

The notice says: In accordance with federal guidelines, we are reporting the details of a drinking water report found during routine monitoring this summer. In July 2019, there were slightly elevated levels of Haloacetic Acids (HAA5) due to the historic rain in May and June 2019. Although this is not an emergency, this required notice is delayed due to calculation errors made by DEQ in the original notice.

Claremore had levels of Haloacetic Acids (HAA5) above drinking water standards. Testing results averaged from October 2018 through September 2019 that show our system exceeded the standards, or maximum contaminent level, for haloacetic acids. The standard MCL for haloacetic acids is 0.060mg/l. An average is determined by collecting samples at locations over 12 months. The level of haloacetic acids averaged at our system’s locations was 0.064, 0.065,0.073, 0.073mg/l.

What does this mean? This is not an emergency. Any public health concerns are immediately reported. however, some people who drink water containing haloacetic acids in excess of the MCL over many years may have an increased risk of getting cancer. Consuming excessive amounts of water with elevated levels of HAA5’s above 0.060mg/l every day, 365 days a year, for 60-70 years may impact your health. Please note that the slightly elevated levels only lasted a few days.

How did this happen? This is directly tied to the historic rain amounts we received in May and June 2019. The HAA5’s spiked but then receded well below the parameters set by the federal government. Current tests show HAA5 levels are within normal limits.

For further information, please contact the Public Works Administrator at 720 Ramm Road, Claremore, or by calling 918-341-1325 ext. 282.

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