Mistake by rookie employee cited as cause of water contamination

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Mistake by rookie employee cited as cause of water contamination U.S. Water News Online

MAURICEVILLE, Texas -- A mistake by a rookie employee, who accidentally hooked up a sewer line into a fresh water line, is being blamed for contaminating an East Texas water supply with fecal coliform.

"I'm not blaming the crew. I've been in the water business for 20 years, and I could have made the exact same mistake,'' said Jeff Holland, general manager of the Mauriceville Special Utility

District. "The problem was with the discolored pipe -- it looked just like a sewer line.''

A crew leader was present when the faulty connection was made, but he also mistook the sewer line for a water delivery line, sources said.

About 2,000 customers of the utility district, about 20 miles northeast of Beaumont, have been boiling water or getting it from a wide range of companies providing bottled water for more than

a week because of the contamination.  While fecal contamination of water supplies is nothing new, there has never been a case in Texas where contamination was a result of workers accidentally hooking a sewer line directly

into a freshwater line, Texas Natural Resource and Conservation Commission spokesman Patrick Crimmins said.

The water contamination could spark changes in utility operating procedures across the state, said Rep. Ron Lewis, D-Mauriceville. Lewis said he will push for legislation to amend the

current regulations for public water systems.

"Unfortunately, it's too late to do anything this year,'' Lewis said. "I plan to meet with the water district so we can try to learn from the mistakes made in Mauriceville. We've seen there's

definitely room for improvement.''

One of the improvements will be to have greater supervision of workers tapping new water and sewer lines, Holland said.

The utility district will also voluntarily increase testing for coliform bacteria in order to detect possible contamination sooner, Holland said.

The Mauriceville water supply system had been tainted with raw sewage for about 20 days before the contaminant was detected through water sampling.

The sampling was conducted because of customer complaints about particles in the water, not because the district was due to conduct its

once-monthly testing required by the TNRCC.

TNRCC investigators will continue reviewing the Mauriceville contamination for about two months, said Georgie Volz, water section manager for the TNRCC in Beaumont.

They will then issue a report and could choose to assess a penalty or a course of corrective action to be followed by the district.


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Edited from Tech Bank 6/13/16