By now, most of the 9,000 Cottonwood municipal water users have received a City newsletter with their water bill entitled, “Just the Facts.” The letter claims to correct “much misinformation.” Ironically, and somewhat unfortunately for its readers, the Newsletter contains inaccurate statements and omits significant amounts of information, which if produced, might cast a different light on the reader’s understanding of the City’s response to issues of serious public concern. Take, for example, the Newsletter’s arsenic story.
The Newsletter states: “In 2006, Congress changed the allowable level of arsenic in drinking water from 50 Parts Per Billion (ppb) to 10 ppb.” That statement is patently inaccurate. However, by selecting this date and making this claim, the City implicitly suggests that its foot dragging on complying with EPA efforts to rid the City water system of arsenic is much shorter than it is in reality.
The fact is that in 2001 the Environmental Protection Agency established a new regulation for arsenic in drinking water. This rule was required by the 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments, passed by Congress that year, not in 2006, as suggested by the Newsletter. In 2001 the legal limit for arsenic in tap water was set by the EPA at 10 parts per billion.
Conspicuous by its absence from the Newsletter article is any reference to the EPA’s struggle with Cottonwood to force it to clean up its contaminated water. The struggle began almost a decade ago when the EPA projected that compliance with its rule could be costly for some small systems, and many water utilities and communities expressed concern that the EPA had significantly underestimated the rule’s costs.
The arsenic rule was initially to become effective March 23, 2001, and public water systems were given until January 23, 2006, to comply with the mandate.
Subsequently, the EPA postponed the rule’s effective date to February 22, 2002, to review the science and conduct a cost and benefit analysis. After completing the review in October 2001, the EPA affirmed the 10 ppb standard and asked water systems to comply by 2006.
In 2006, the EPA inspected Cottonwood’s water for compliance. (City wells were purchased from private companies in 2004 and 2005). The City failed the inspection. The EPA identified four wells owned and operated by the City containing excessive levels of cancer causing arsenic: Cottonwood Municipal Water, 220 W. Mesquite Drive; Verde Santa Fe Water System, 800 Santa Fe Trail; Clemenceau Water System, 165 S. Candy Lane; Verde Village 3, 2612 Pleasant Valley Drive.
After failing the 2006 inspection, the EPA gave Cottonwood three more years to bring the four wells into compliance. Cottonwood, however, continued to drag its feet while its citizens consumed the contaminated water. The EPA returned to inspect the wells in 2009 and the City again failed the inspection.
In response to the City’s foot dragging, the EPA got out its big stick. In October, 2009 the EPA issued an order requiring that the City either reduce arsenic levels in its drinking water systems by 2011 or face penalties of up to $37,500 per day for each violation.
Under the threat of having to pay huge daily fines, Cottonwood realized it could no longer ignore the EPA rule. Finally, according to the Newsletter, there remains only one well pumping excessive levels of arsenic into the City water supply. If true, that is good news! Except for those folks still drinking contaminated water from this one well.
The City pats itself on the back in its Newsletter claiming that it has “worked diligently from the time the water companies were purchased and the new mandate took effect to meet that new [arsenic] requirement.”
The actual facts appear to pretty clearly contradict that self-congratulatory claim.
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