Valdosta Daily Times

May 19, 2013

Coliform found in drinking water

City utilities dept. flushes lines, adds chlorine to fight bacteria in isolated incident

Jason Schaefer
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — The cause of a water quality issue is still under investigation by the City of Valdosta Utilities Department after a water sample taken from a line in the area near the intersection of St. Augustine Road and West Hill Avenue tested positive for coliform bacteria.

The City regularly tests potable water pulled from end-user lines, and discovered May 11 that a sample taken a day earlier from a spigot behind Advance Auto on St. Augustine contained the bacteria.

The bacteria is not harmful to people in the amounts detected, according to Water Treatment Plant Assistant Superintendent Jason Barnes. Coliform is not the same bacteria as fecal coliform, the bacteria found in human and animal feces that was a cause for concern during flooding events and subsequent sewer discharges.

“(Coliform) is not going to kill you,” Barnes said. “A lot of those businesses don’t use a lot of water, and it stagnates in the lines. We just needed to put more chlorine in there to kill the bacteria. It was just a presence of bacteria, nothing dangerous.”

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division allows for no more than five percent of samples to come back positive for cities that conduct more than 40 samples each month. Valdosta conducts 60 samples per month, Barnes said, and the sample came back positive four times, putting the system in EPD violation.

Valdosta Utilities flushed the lines, added chlorine and continued testing in the area. Tests began to come back negative by May 14.

The EPD requires cities in violation of coliform regulations to issue a public notice to residents within 30 days of the issue. Public Information Director Sementha Mathews released the notice Thursday announcing the problem had occurred and was solved.

During the water quality incident, the City stayed in contact with the business-owners the issue affected, Mathews explained.

Exceeding the total coliform bacteria maximum contaminant level is a Tier 2 violation, according to the EPD, and persistent total coliform problems can be serious. The appearance of fecal coliform in water systems is a Tier 1 violation, Mathews said.

The City believes either a line break along Roberts Street or a cross-connection with a private well is to blame for the contamination, according to Mathews.

Water that flows backward from end users into the lines can cause bacterial issues easily solved with a backflow prevention device that costs less than $200 and can be installed by a plumber, Mathews said.

“If the water pressure dropped in the City, it could pull water from any house that doesn’t have a backflow prevention device,” Mathews said. “It’s especially important for those people who have pools and hot tubs to have the backflow device, should the pressure in the water system decrease.”