By REID TUCKER
Representatives from CH2M Hill OMI, the company that operates DeFuniak Springs’ wastewater treatment facility, said residents need not worry about the safety of their drinking water despite two recent samples testing positive for coliform bacteria.
Water Compliance Coordinator Celeste Valliere explained in a presentation at the City Council’s regularly scheduled Oct. 14 meeting that a combination of environmental factors, deficiencies in testing procedures and other considerations at the testing site were likely behind the Sept. 23 test’s unfavorable results. Additional tests using water from the same site confirmed that E. Coli, which is included in the total coliform spectrum, was not present in the test sample. Tests of the water system’s residual chlorine levels also confirmed that the disinfectant system were within the acceptable range, meaning that water coming from the main source is completely clear of bacteria.
“Since our follow-up testing was negative, there was no health risk,” Valliere said. “It’s important for everyone to at no time was the water unsafe to drink. All the bacteria is inactivated or killed by the disinfection process.”
Valliere said the most obvious source of potential sample contamination was the heavy rain of the past few months, which, when combined with windborne pollen and dust, created a non-ideal testing environment. Furthermore, the randomly selected site of the most recent test was an unoccupied residence, meaning the water had been sitting in the pipes and may have become slightly stagnant, further increasing the odds that total coliform bacteria would be identified in a test. She said water system workers have received additional training on better testing practices and sample site selection, such as using indoor taps, in order to prevent a similar situation in the future.
Coliform bacteria, being among the most abundant organisms in the environment – be that in soil, water or vegetation – are almost universally present in the feces of warm-blooded animals. As such, coliform bacteria, though they themselves do not commonly cause illness, are often used as in tests measuring the sanitary quality of water, as their presence may indicate the presence of other harmful organisms of fecal origin.
Though CH2M Hill OMI reps do not believe there is any safety risk associated with using the city’s water, the company is nevertheless required by law to mail out notices to utilities customers explaining the results of the water quality tests.
In a related bit of news, Walton Middle School science students, assisted by CH2M Hill employees, conducted a blind taste test at the second annual DeFuniak Springs Energy Conservation Discovery Expo in which 27 of 38 people polled preferred city tap water to bottled water.
Beyond the report on the results of the water quality tests, the City Council quickly got through an agenda filled with other reports and updates regarding everything from the forthcoming arrival of a major employer within the next few years to the city’s recent bear problem.
First, Councilman Mac Work presented a resolution of support for the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM), which after purchasing the property formerly owned by Microspine, Inc., is set to occupy the facility by the fall of 2015. LECOM, the largest medical college in the country with locations in Pennsylvania and in Bradenton, Fla., will offer medical instruction as well as providing dental services to an estimated 150-200 patients per day, and at a much-reduced price compared to regular dentist offices, Work said. Furthermore, LECOM will provide many high-paying full-time employment positions, which he said makes the college “a Godsend for [the] community.”
Finally, City Marshal Mark Weeks and Mayor Bob Campbell briefed the Council and those in attendance at the meeting on the recent spate of run-ins with black bears. Though it is not certain if more than one animal is active in the area, Weeks said bears have been sighted on porches and in yards from Walton Road and 20th Street to within a block of the police station.
Campbell said calls to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have been less than favorable. Residents and city officials alike have been told by the FWC to leave the bears alone and to keep garbage can lids tightly closed on the hope that the bears will leave the area. However, Weeks said the DFSPD has continued to receive two calls a week, on average, for the past month from residents reporting bear sightings.
The mayor advised those who have experienced problems with the bears to attend the special meeting to be hosted by the FWC at the Coastal Branch Library in Santa Rosa Beach on Oct. 29.