Rural California Water Systems Ordered to Monitor for Bacteria

SAN FRANCISCO, California, November 10, 2008 (ENS) - Ten California public drinking water systems must monitor for E. coli bacteria in their source water or face federal penalties of up to $32,500 per day for each violation.

E. coli is a type of fecal coliform bacteria commonly found in the intestines of animals and humans. The presence of E. coli in water is a strong indication of recent sewage or animal waste contamination.

"It is vital that drinking water systems develop their plans and sample promptly," said Alexis Strauss, the Water Division director for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Pacific Southwest region. "This requirement protects the public from potentially harmful microorganisms in drinking water."

The 10 systems all are in rural areas and serve fewer than 10,000 people. They include a company logging town, a residential area for PG&E workers, several resorts and a number of agricultural areas in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley.

The EPA's orders, issued Thursday, require these public drinking water systems to develop monitoring plans and conduct pathogen monitoring, as required by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

The monitoring plans are required of all public water systems that obtain their water from a surface source - such as a river, lake - and are part of a year-long source water monitoring effort for E. coli, designed to prevent contamination of drinking water.

The requirements are part of the Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment, LT2, Rule imposed in 2006, which increases treatment requirements for water systems that have high levels of Cryptosporidium in their source water.

Cryptosporidium is a micro-organism that can cause gastrointestinal illness with diarrhea in humans, which can be severe in people with weakened immune systems, such as infants or the elderly. It can be fatal to people with severely compromised immune systems, such as cancer and AIDS patients.

Drinking water systems serving fewer than 10,000 people have the option of initially monitoring for E. coli in their source water, which may be an indicator of Cryptosporidium.

If the E. coli levels are too high, the system is required to monitor for Cryptosporidium.

This type of monitoring protects public health by reducing illness due to Cryptosporidium and other harmful microorganisms in drinking water, says Strauss.

Cryptosporidium can resist many common disinfectants, even chlorine-based disinfectants, but there are options available for drinking water utilities to remove the pathogen from their water.

Surface water systems required to provide treatment under the LT2 rule can utilize ultraviolet disinfection or membrane filtration to meet treatment requirements.

Water systems with high levels of Cryptosporidium or which do not filter their water must conduct watershed control programs.

In Alpine County, monitoring orders were sent to Markleeville Water Company and Lake Alpine Recreation Area , located in the Sierra Nevada, between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park.

Four water systems in Fresno County received monitoring orders - two of them in the agricultural San Joaquin Valley - the Panoche Water District, an agricultural area in the western part of the valley; and San Andreas Farms, a large irrigated farm property in the valley's prime vegetable growing region.

Also in Fresno County, monitoring orders were sent to Cedar Crest Resort on Huntington Lake; and PG&E Balch Camp, a residential area for workers who run the nearby powerhouses and dams.

Two water systems received monitoring orders in Trinity County, a mountainous, heavily forested county in the northwestern portion of the state of California, along the Trinity River and within the Salmon/Klamath Mountains. Coffee Creek Ranch and Riverview Acres Water Systems were each ordered to check their source water for E. coli.

Glenn County's Elk Creek Community service district in the Central Valley also received a monitoring order as did the Town of Scotia Company in Humboldt County, which is wholly owned by Pacific Lumber Company.

For technical requirements of the LT2 rule click here.

{Photo: The water utility serving the Pacific Lumber Company town of Scotia, California has been ordered to test for E. coli bacteria. (Photo credit unknown)}

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