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YOUR REPORT ON THE District of Columbia’s water system (“Muddying the Waters,” The District Line, 11/12) did a grave disservice to the public by distorting the facts. Allow me to set the record straight and share some information that was not included.
2.) The bacteria did not threaten anyone outside the school. No students and no residents were ever at risk. We found no evidence of contamination in any water lines that serve homes in the area. Nevertheless, just to be sure, as soon as we learned that the school water might be contaminated—well before we knew the final test results—we began flushing the water supply of the area around the school.
The only persons at risk were workers temporarily at the school, and the District Department of Public Works (DPW) moved promptly to supply them with fresh water.
3.) The fecal coliform found in water from the school was later discovered to be of a variety that grows in soil, not the variety that grows in sewage. This alone should effectively put to rest any theorizing about “seepage between sewer drains and fresh water pipes.” In any event, it is physically impossible for sewage to “seep” into a water system that is under pressure.
4.) The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which treats the District’s drinking water, and DPW, which distributes it, maintain excellent communications and are in daily, if not hourly, contact. The Corps informally notified us as early as Thursday, Sept. 23, of a potential problem. That is when we took immediate steps to flush the area’s water system.
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5.) DPW did not engage in stalling or foot dragging. The record is clear. It is correct that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did not notify DPW until late the following Monday that “fecal coliform” had been found, but the key instruction from EPA was that a “boil water” advisory to nearby residents was required only “until monitoring indicates that there is not evidence of further contamination.” It gave us 72 hours to comply.
Only on Thursday, Sept. 30, did the EPA inform us that a “boil water” advisory needed to be in effect until we had four consecutive days of negative tests. We had never before been notified about any such four-consecutive-days rule. No threat of a fine was necessary. We complied immediately (and within the EPA’s original 72-hour deadline). As history shows, all tests continued to be negative.
9.) It is not true that water distribution was turned over to the District 20 years ago. The District’s government has always had the responsibility of maintaining the system, both before and since home rule.
Any suggestion that the District acted negligently in these matters is irresponsible. DPW acted and continues to act responsibly. District of Columbia residents have every reason to be confident that their water supply is safe.
Betty Hager Francis, Director of Public Works, Downtown