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Aug 11, 2014 11:34 PM by Domenica Fuller

Tucson's Water - How it's monitored and how you will be notified if there is a problem

TUCSON - Residents in Sierra Vista were overwhelmed and confused this past weekend after hearing mixed reports on the boundaries for a boil alert.

First, it was south of Camino Principal and then it changed to being north of Camino Principal. For a period of time, certain residents could have been boiling their water when there was no need to. While residents north of Camino Principal could have been drinking their water under the assumption they were not at risk.

This scare forced many in Tucson to consider a terrifying hypothetical: what would happen if the water here was contaminated with E. coli and how would Tucsonans be properly notified?

Tucson Water Department's protocol is to initially issue a press release, so the media can properly disseminate the vital information. The effected customers would then receive a written notification about the contaminated water. Tucson Water says they would even go door to door to notify people of the problem.

Tucson Water checks monthly for coliform bacteria, which can be an indicator of the presence of harmful bacteria such as E. coli. If a sample comes back positive for coliform, the water will be tested again to confirm the presence of harmful bacteria. If the second test comes back positive, then there is cause for worry. However, the sampling test is incredibly sensitive and even a small speck of dirt can cause a positive for coliform.

According to Southwestern Utility, it is common for many initial tests to come back positive for coliform. It is particularly common during monsoon, since the rain water and flooding can infiltrate a system if there is a leak.

In 2004, Tucson Water reported coliform was present in one of their wells in Southwest Tucson. Tucson Water reacted by supplying their customers with bottled water until the problem was resolved.

About a month ago, according to Southwestern Utilities, a well in Three Points tested positive for coliform on two separate occasions. The follow up tests for both came back negative and therefore confirmed there was no contamination.

This particular well is owned by a community. The people in this neighborhood pay to have their well monitored and tested by Sierrita Mountain Water CO-OP. The residents, however, were unaware that their well had initially tested positive for coliform on two separate occasions.

"I definitely would want to know because I like to know all the details. If there is any issue with the water, even if its been cleared up. I'd still like to know that there was at one time an issue," said Tom Topal, a resident of Three Points.

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