Setting the record straight on water issues in Tempe

Editor’s note: The following, received Friday, Feb. 9, is a response to a commentary by Mary Lou Taylor that appeared in the Wrangler News edition of Jan. 13.

Everyone has the right to express their opinions.  But recently, there was a column printed in this publication that contained misleading, inaccurate and alarming information about our water in Tempe.

We feel compelled to set the record straight because nothing is more important than providing safe, reliable water.  The Tempe City Council and our staff take all water matters—quality, scarcity, reliability and cost—very seriously each and every day.

Tempe provides water service to about 43,000 residential and business accounts serving a population over 180,000 residents, and those who work and visit Tempe. We continue to study water rates because these rates, fees and charges are used to recover the cost of providing this service, including any repairs or improvements to the infrastructure. We don’t set these rates arbitrarily.  The rates are based on usage by various customer classifications.  The more water that goes through our system, the greater the cost to the city.  For the facts about how your water rates are formulated, visit www.tempe.gov/waterrates.

Delivering safe drinking water to our residents and complying with all drinking water regulations is priority one, which is one reason why we invested in building our new water lab as part of the South Water Treatment Plant and why we have had an asset management program in place for years.

Our responsibility for water quality safety and compliance requires us to collect over 2,000 drinking water samples annually.  Since enactment of the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974, Tempe has only had one health-based violation of this standard, which was a violation of the standard for Total Trihalomethanes (TTHMs) in May 2017.  This continual testing allows us to monitor water quality throughout the city, which is how we found out we were out of compliance.  For one quarterly reporting period of an annual-running-average sampling series at one of our compliance locations, the maximum TTHMs of 80 parts per billion (ppb) was exceeded (85 ppb).  Steps were promptly taken to address the concern and to confirm improvement through follow-up sampling.

It is important to note that the federal Safe Water standards for TTHM are intended to protect consumers from chronic, cumulative exposure to contaminants, and are based on the potential health effects of drinking two liters of water per day for 70 years.

When we found out about the violation, we notified all city drinking water customers with the potential concerns and when we were back in compliance.  To suggest that residents were not informed of the current safety of their drinking water is to disregard all of the information that we put out to the public via our monthly utility bill, social media, email, our website and our local news outlets.

While we don’t take the violation lightly, to use this incident to alarm our residents is not appropriate. Residents continue to receive safe drinking water and if there is a future issue with our water quality, we will be transparent and inform the public. It’s our job.

Further, the claim that Tempe Fire and Medical Rescue was unable to secure a water supply from a fire hydrant at a recent house fire, is also untrue.  Firefighters were able to hook up to a fire hydrant nearest the house without issue.  In fact, there were a total of three hand lines deployed on the fire. While hydrant issues do occur from time to time, the City of Tempe has an extensive fire hydrant system, with over 9,200 hydrants within our 42 square miles. These hydrants are routinely checked by a cross-departmental team of city employees. In last year’s budget, the Council approved the formation of two dedicated personnel for proactive maintenance of our fire hydrants, and that work is ongoing.

While there is always room for improvement, we’re proud to own a vital community utility that is responsive and values safety and quality above all. We would hope that in the future, we can have a civilized discussion about the issues that are happening in the City of Tempe.  If you ever hear a rumor about the city and wonder if it’s accurate, we encourage you to reach out to us.  We will always provide you the facts, no matter what they are.  We appreciate you giving us a chance to set the record straight.

Updated 2/12/18: Mary Lou Taylor stands by her editorial commentary and adds she is “grateful these issues are now getting the attention they demand.” 

 

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