Tue, July 23

What does it mean when there’s coliform in your water?

The City of Cottonwood has taken steps to remediate their water testing process since last October.

The City of Cottonwood has taken steps to remediate their water testing process since last October.

What Cottonwood is doing following revelation about water testing improprieties


Cottonwood City Manager

The City has been cooperating with the Arizona Department of Health Services and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality in an investigation into the City’s practices and procedures for collecting, testing and recording water samples and reporting the results of those test to the state as required by state and federal law.

That investigation has revealed a number of significant deficiencies and incidents of noncompliance. However, there is no evidence that any of those deficiencies led to the provision of water that did not fully comply with all applicable federal and state water quality standards.

Nevertheless, the City has elected to cease testing its own compliance samples and is now sending those samples to a certified outside laboratory. We have also implemented a number of additional corrective actions to ensure that the identified deficiencies do not recur and that all water sampling, testing and reporting is conducted in strict compliance with all applicable laws, regulations and City policies.

Further information may be obtained by calling the City of Cottonwood Utility Department at (928) 634-0186 ext. 3307.

The City of Cottonwood has been under heavy fire following news from the Arizona Attorney General’s Office that a former city employee was indicted for allegedly forging drinking water test results.

A 2017 report by the Arizona Department of Health Services revealed that Cottonwood employees “knowingly” submitted inaccurate information in testing drinking water samples for bacteria.

“Cottonwood’s officers and employees knowingly aided, permitted or abetted the submission of false or inaccurate information required by the statutes or regulations governing the licensure of environmental laboratories,” the report stated.

The City of Cottonwood has taken steps to remediate their water testing process since last October.

Erin Jordan, public information officer for ADEQ said the City of Cottonwood is now being supplied with healthy drinking water.

“Monitoring by the water systems is now on-going through a separate lab,” she said.

What are coliforms?

The water testing samples contained the bacteria coliform, according to the ADHS report.

According to the Center for Disease Control, coliforms are bacteria found in plant material, water and soil. They are also present in digestive tracts as well as human and animals feces. E. coli is a subgroup of the fecal coliform group, according to a Department of Health website. Most of the time, coliforms are not harmful, according to the CDC.

So what is the fuss about coliform if it’s mostly benign?

Water systems use total coliforms to monitor water system quality, according to the CDC. A positive test for coliforms can mean recent contamination of the water system.

“Most coliforms are not harmful, but they come from the same sources as other bacteria and organisms that could make you sick,” a CDC FAQ states.

A positive coliform test requires more tests for E. coli, according to the CDC. Confirmed positive tests mean further action must be taken.

How you can learn about Cottonwood’s water testing process

The City of Cottonwood will be hosting two Public Water Forums to discuss drinking water quality and testing procedures.

Utility Department staff will be doing sampling demonstrations and will be available to answer questions from the public. Arrangements are being finalized to include additional guest speakers.

Two forums are scheduled for Thursday, June 7, 6 p.m., and Thursday, June 14, 2 p.m., at the Riverfront Water Reclamation Facility, located at 1083 Riverfront Road.

For further information, please call the City of Cottonwood Utility Department at (928) 634-0186 ext. 3307.

The law

The Environmental Protection Agency updated the 1989 Total Coliform Rule in 2013 and reintroduced it as the Revised Total Coliform Review, according to the ADEQ website. RTCR uses total coliform as an indicator of water system quality rather than a public health concern.

In 2016, public water systems officially had to comply with these rules under federal law.

Public water systems meeting any of the following three criteria had to submit a microbiological sample siting plan for review by their regulatory agency:

• Elects to have alternate repeat monitoring locations

• Chooses to have dual-purpose samples under the Ground Water Rule and RTCR

• A seasonal system monitoring less frequently than monthly.

According to ADEQ, if a water system tests positive for E. coli, the next steps are to:

• Contact ADEQ by the end of the business day or within 24 hours if the day is already over.

• Take necessary repeats and triggered samples and notify the Compliance Assistance Coordinator of the results.

• Submit a copy of the water system’s microbiological sample siting plan to ADEQ.

Kelcie Grega is the associate editor of Verde Valley Newspapers, Inc.