Sunday, February 13, 2005

Phoenix Water Woes Run Deepad - How Could One Blame On Luck??

Phoenix officials say a convergence of bad luck and unforeseeable circumstances is to blame for last month's water quality alert, which forced 1.5 million residents to boil water and some businesses to close.

These certainly is an excuse. Water is the basic Life line of each individual. How could that be depending on the Luck & due to Convergence of Bad Luck.

In the 80's till mid of 90's people in position's very frequently sit on the information & hold on to the informations. But now 2005, the tactics of sitting on informations is no longer works.

With the internet, informations should be available on the real time, on time & everytime, it these cannot be accomplished, then there must be something wrong with the people in command.

Think about safe water, Think about clean Water, for the People, Protect your people. then even Bad luck come , it have less impact after all.

Phoenix water woes run deep
Chaos, violations plague agency

Ginger D. Richardson, Dennis Wagner and Mary Jo Pitzl
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 13, 2005 12:00 AM

Phoenix officials say a convergence of bad luck and unforeseeable circumstances is to blame for last month's water quality alert, which forced 1.5 million residents to boil water and some businesses to close.

But an Arizona Republic investigation - including interviews with key city officials and a review of thousands of memos, lab reports, maintenance records and e-mails - shows that the chaos surrounding the water scare was indicative of deeper, more pervasive problems that have plagued the city's Water Services Department for more than a decade.

The documents portray an agency that chronically violated state and federal water laws.

They also indicate that Water Services leaders failed to communicate with top city officials because of a belief that outsiders cannot understand the technical operations. At the same time, they cultivated an attitude that working with regulatory agencies was not a top priority. Consider:

• The department's troubling history with state and federal regulators dates to at least 1988 and includes a lawsuit, more than $1.6 million in penalties and hundreds of violations in the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, which sets water quality standards.

• Top water officials' response to state and federal regulators was, at best, inconsistent. They repeatedly downplayed violations by claiming the non-compliance did not endanger public health.

• Water officials gave incorrect and false information to top city managers about problems with regulatory agencies and within the water treatment system. At one point, the director was suspended for five days for the way he handled an audit.

"They've shown an almost terminal sense of denial, a refusal to look at themselves in the mirror and say, 'We have a problem here,' " said Erik Olson, a researcher with the Natural Resource Defense Council, an environmental group that gave the city a poor grade for water quality and a failure for openness in a 2003 report.

The Republic's review shows that these systemic problems were represented in the January water contamination scare that spun quickly out of control. The situation left panicked residents jamming City Hall phone lines in search of information, resulted in a run on bottled water at grocery stores and forced top city officials to launch an internal investigation into what went wrong.

The situation evolved over three days at the end of last month, when water with a high sediment content, known as turbidity, made its way from Phoenix's Val Vista Water Treatment Plants in Mesa into the city water supply because officials could not effectively treat it.

The failure clearly stemmed from a litany of events, including heavy storm runoff from the Verde River and the lack of a backup water supply because three of the city's four other treatment facilities were closed. Two plants had been shut for routine maintenance and a third was knocked out by floodwaters.

But other evidence raises questions about how the city handled the problem:

• Workers ran out of a key treatment chemical, lime, that other cities were using to deal with turbid water.

• Phoenix's ultimate solution was to dump the "untreatable" water into a canal that flows into plants operated by Tempe and Chandler, which apparently managed to clean the water.

• Officials did not follow protocols that require workers to notify the City Manager's Office by phone of potential threats to the water supply.

• The information from Water Services to top city officials and to the public was muddled, contradictory and in some cases, wrong. At one point, residents were told to boil water until noon Wednesday, but the alert wasn't lifted until 4 p.m.

Even now, an explanation of the crisis from the city water officials raises serious questions.

Essentially, they say the plant was fouled by a buildup of microscopic dirt in the water that apparently had never before been blamed for a treatment system failure.

City Manager Frank Fairbanks stripped longtime Water Services Director Mike Gritzuk of his title two days after the debacle, saying serious changes were needed in the department.

Gritzuk, who lead the department for 16 years, did not respond to repeated interview requests for this article.

His direct supervisor, Deputy City Manager Andrea Tevlin, criticized his management style, saying he cultivated an environment of "stonewalling and denial" in the department when things went wrong.

"I think it was a culture that came from the top down."

Top city officials said the Water Department seemed to think of itself as isolated from the city because it operated using its own revenue and was so technical in nature. That mindset, Fairbanks said, contributed to communication breakdowns, a problem he said had been addressed repeatedly over the years.

Fairbanks acknowledged that the department has had problems, but he defended its daily performance.

"It isn't that the whole department is broken," he said. "There are many, many things it does right. Someone can paint the whole department as a disaster, but that isn't the case."

Tevlin also said she thinks the manager's office acted appropriately.

"I take responsibility for the things that I need to," she said Thursday. "I am not a perfect manager, but I feel that I managed this department to the best of my ability."

Tevlin has supervised Water Services for roughly three years.

But the city's feud with water regulators goes back at least 17 years.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the city failed from 1988-95 to get permits, test equipment and adequately check treated water for contaminants.

From 1993 to 2000, the city did not monitor for coliform, which would indicate the presence of fecal material in water.

In 1996, the EPA issued violation notices for excess nitrate levels, inadequate testing and a failure to monitor. That same year, workers at a city treatment plant mistakenly mixed toxic chemicals in a vat, then damaged the facility trying to neutralize the mixture. Efforts to conceal the blunder by bleeding the chemicals slowly into city water lines also failed before public exposure and federal regulators forced the city to haul 60,000 gallons to a California hazardous-waste plant.

In 1997, after being unable to force compliance for nearly a decade, the EPA and state Department of Environmental Quality sued Phoenix in a U.S. District Court complaint that contained hundreds of suspected violations covering the entire water system.

City officials have consistently said the citations involved technicalities and paperwork oversights rather than actual public safety threats.

Marvin Young, a regulator with the Environmental Protection Agency in San Francisco for 18 years, disagrees.

"That's not the way we saw it," he said. "If you don't do the monitoring, you don't know if the water's unsafe."

Young said the government files suit only when there are serious problems and chronic non-compliance.

As a result of the lawsuit, Phoenix paid $350,000 in penalties and agreed to finance clean-water programs for a total cost of $1.6 million. That's the highest penalty Young said he has ever seen levied against a municipal water agency.

In 2002, more problems surfaced when two state audits of a Water Services laboratory found analysts were manipulating computer data to make it appear as if water samples had passed safety standards.

The audit also found that city equipment used to measure contaminants in water was in need of repair and the analysts falsified data to make it look as if it were operating properly.

The two technicians resigned under threat of termination in fall 2003, after the city hired an outside firm to do another audit and verify the state's findings.

The state audit resulted in a $41,750 fine and a city agreement to change training procedures, hire two new chemists and take other steps to tighten lab procedures.

It also forced city officials to take a hard look at Gritzuk.

In a July 2003 reprimand, Fairbanks wrote that Gritzuk tried to deny that there was a problem with the lab and was not forthcoming with information.

The letter in Gritzuk's personnel file reads, "Management has determined that you are ultimately responsible for this continued unacceptable performance. Despite your having received repeated instructions to the contrary, you have given the appearance of ignoring management's directives by not establishing a culture of environmental excellence . . . in your department."

He was suspended for five days without pay, an action that Fairbanks considers appropriately harsh.

Fairbanks called the action a "warning shot" in the "progressive discipline" policy the city uses for its employees.

He and Tevlin said they thought the message had gotten through, ending problems with the department and Gritzuk's communication style.

"These issues had been addressed repeatedly," Fairbanks said. "We had strong assertions that this would not happen again, and my sense was that (we) thought that progress had been made."

They were wrong.

Tevlin heard about the boil advisory not from Gritzuk, as required by city protocol, but from an early morning phone call from Gordon, who heard it on the morning television news.

"I was shocked," Tevlin said of the communication breakdown. "I really thought we had solved this."

During the water scare, three advisories were issued.

The first was issued late Monday afternoon, Jan. 24, roughly 29 hours after the water first tested high for turbidity. Federal law requires notification within 24 hours.

Next came a late-night plea for conservation, and then finally, the boil-water alert around 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 25, as water managers anticipated a batch of murky water entering the system.

Turbidity itself is not a health threat, but it can create an environment where bacteria can grow.

The boil-water alert also was a surprise to county overseers, even though they are required to be notified by law, and city officials had worked with them days earlier when issuing the murky water advisory.

"The county should have been involved in (the decision)," Fairbanks said.

Bob Hollander, the city's administrator for compliance and regulatory affairs, said he tried to reach two county officials after midnight Monday but couldn't raise anyone.

John Kolman, manager of Maricopa County's drinking water and solid waste program, said the city should have used an on-call number that would guarantee a response from a county employee. Instead, Kolman said he awoke early Tuesday to learn of the boil-water advisory from broadcast news and to find a message from Hollander that arrived on his cellphone in the middle of the night.

Those who advised Gritzuk to issue the alert - Hollander, Water Production Superintendent Keith Greenberg and Assistant Water Services Director Wayne Janis - stand by the decision.

Greenberg said that failure to tell consumers to boil the water would have been "criminal" because of what was learned 12 years ago when 400,000 people were sickened by contaminated water in Milwaukee. The event was blamed on failure to remove turbidity, which allowed an intestinal parasite known as cryptosporidium to bloom. The episode prompted a tightening of national drinking-water standards. Read More....
Phoenix water woes run deep

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