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Penalties possible from August e-coli scare

A water utility company could be penalized for how it handled an August E. coli scare in the San Tan Valley.

Seven violations allegedly committed by Johnson Utilities are on file with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. Three accuse the company of failing to activate standard emergency notification plans for the Aug. 16 outbreak.

The 22-page document outlines a time frame for when the utility learned of the outbreak to when the public was told. While the utility learned of the issue on Aug. 16, schools weren’t informed until Aug. 21 and the first public notice was posted to a website until Aug. 22.

“The notice that they provided to the school district, that was not part of their emergency operations plan,” said Mindi Cross with the AZDEQ. “They also issued a press release to the news media, however, they didn’t issue an actual public notice.”

Cross also said the company did not provide consumers with a way to contact them.

Johnson Utilities has 30 days to respond to the allegations before the DEQ could issue monetary penalties that could reach into the tens-of-thousands of dollars.

The company released the following statement on Wednesday. It has not been altered in any way.

As our valued customers no doubt recall, in August we issued a boil water advisory after receiving laboratory reports-later determined to be erroneous-suggesting the presence of drinking water contaminants in our system.

We received today from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality a notice of alleged violations related to that incident. The notice is the first step in the agency’s process of evaluating whether Johnson Utilities ran afoul of any regulatory requirements while it was dealing with this false alarm. Johnson Utilities worked closely with ADEQ on the approval of the proper notification and notified our customers through a variety of newspapers, television and radio stations, print media, and the web in the timeframe required by the agency.

We are confident that after we further explain the course of events to ADEQ, the agency will agree that no sanctions are appropriate. We will be meeting with ADEQ soon to do precisely that.