Untested Water Drives Rise in ND Drinking Water Violations

Posted in: Drinking Water News, Health effects, United States Water News, Water Contamination
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(Photo Credit: InForum)

Article courtesy of Mike Nowatzki | June 23, 2015 | InForum | Shared as educational material

BISMARCK – Major drinking water violations committed by North Dakota’s public water systems spiked again last year and have nearly quadrupled since 2008, causing concern for the state Department of Health, an official said Thursday.

The number of major violations climbed from 325 in 2013 to 389 last year, a 20 percent increase that follows a 37 percent increase the previous year.

The state reported 98 major violations in 2008, and last year’s total represents a 50 percent increase over the 260 major violations reported a decade earlier in 2004.

LeeAnn Tillotson, environmental scientist for the health department’s Drinking Water Program, attributed the increase largely to new public water systems that have come online to serve the state’s growing population and robust economy, as well as a high rate of turnover of system operators and administrators.

The number of public water systems in North Dakota rose by three last year to 657 and has increased by 28 percent since there were 514 systems in 2008 around the start of the state’s oil boom.

“I think we see most of the new systems and some of those problems are in the western half of the state due to the increased activity out there,” Tillotson said.

She said the department has stepped up technical assistance and on-site visits to water systems having the hardest time complying with the reporting requirements mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. North Dakota is one of 49 states that administer their own supervision program under regulations that must be at least as stringent as federal regulations.

“It is concerning to us, and we do have steps that we take,” she said.

Those steps can include administrative orders involving fines, but those are rare and Tillotson said she wasn’t aware of any being issued last year. The department continues to issue warning letters and work with systems to bring them into compliance, which she said fosters long-term cooperation. Of the 657 systems last year, 175 were responsible for the major violations.

“We’re hopeful we can turn people around,” she said.

Most of the major violations — 88 percent — were because no samples were taken or no results were reported during a compliance period.

Systems reported a total of 46 major violations related to contaminant levels, with 42 of those stemming from coliform bacteria, which is common and is used as an indicator for more serious bacteria such as E. Coli or fecal coliform. Two violations exceeded standards for nitrate levels and the other two were for excessive uranium levels blamed on deposits being pumped from a city well in Ross that was under increased demand, Tillotson said. The city has since disconnected the well and is getting its water from Stanley, she said.

The number of water systems that earned certificates for full compliance increased from 291 in 2013 to 306 last year.

Greg Wavra, manager of the Drinking Water Program, said 96 percent of North Dakota’s population received water that met all drinking water standards for 12 months of the year in 2014.

“The other 4 percent, they may have had a monthly violation, then they got back on track again,” he said.

State lawmakers last spring approved an additional 10 environmental scientists for the Department of Health, and two of those scientists will work in the municipal facilities division, which includes the Drinking Water Program, Tillotson said.

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