Senate hears the hard facts on Boil Water notice
A professional engineer assigned to the American Samoa Power Authority's Water and Waste Water divisions gave senators a realistic time line of "six months" or even longer before the current ‘boil water' notice, which has been in effect since last year is lifted as ASPA works towards complying with new federal requirements and making improvements to its aging water infrastructure.
Capt. Brad Rea of the U.S. Public Health Services detailed to work at ASPA for the last two and a half years as chief engineer for water and waste water, presented the timeline, when he, along with ten officials from ASPA, American Samoa Power Authority and the Department of Health appeared yesterday before the Senate Health/Hospital Committee on the quality of water for the territory and the reason for the boil water notice.
Prior to the start of the hearing, committee chairman Sen. Galeai Tu'ufuli - in a rare move carried out by the chairman of a standing committee - asked the eleven witnesses to stand and raise their right hand, to be sworn in, that they will tell the truth and nothing but the truth as the Senate digs into reasons for the long standing boil water notice, in place for many months and not yet lifted.
Galeai said the notice is adding more expenses for customers, who are forced to buy bottled water, as well as receiving a higher electric bill for the use of electricity to boil water. He said customers are already paying water bills and pointed out that he plans to introduce legislation that would "cut off any payment" for any time period that the water is considered contaminated so customers don't have to pay for something that is not of acceptable quality, service included.
He also set the tone of the hearing and how witnesses are to respond to questions from senators to ensure there was no ‘beating around the bush'.
"Don't elaborate" when responding to questions, said Galea'i, because "that will get the public more confused."
"Be more specific. The longer you explain, the more the public is confused."
Responding to Galeai's questions, ASPA chief executive officer Andra Samoa told senators that she is testifying truthfully to the fact that ASPA is working hard on resolving the boil water notice, which has been in place due to newer, more stringent federal regulations that ASPA must comply with.
"These are aging water infrastructure... going back to Navy times," said Samoa, adding that there has been no major upgrade for water infrastructure.
Rea agreed with the aging water infrastructure and pointed out that it's not easy to give a specific timeframe of when the notice will be lifted because this "is a complicated situation", adding that the main groundwater sources - Malaeimi Valley and Fagaima area - are contaminated. He said that the water being pumped from these underground areas is bad.
He added that the contamination didn't occur recently and noted that these areas of Tutuila have increased their population over the years.
Rea, who was first detailed to the ASEPA before being reassigned to ASPA, said "realistically" the public should not see any relief in the next "six months".
If this is the case, Galea'i said it would be difficult to provide any immediate "stop gap solutions". This statement was acknowledged by Rea, who pointed out that ASEPA tests the water system at least 60 times a month and the water wells were documented to be contaminated, resulting in ASEPA requesting the boil water notice.
ASPA officials testified in both the Senate and House last September that under the new federal regulations, which become effective Dec. 1, 2009, if a test comes back positive from the distribution system, then the water wells are tested, and if they too are positive for contamination, a Boil Water notice is then issued.
ASPA officials testified yesterday in the Senate and early this month in the House that ASPA continues to work closely with the ASEPA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for water infrastructure projects where funding would be needed.
Among the projects identified are storage tanks and new piping systems as well as holding tanks to treat water before it goes into the distribution system, and these projects will help address the federal regulations that ASPA must comply with, said ASPA officials.
Durning yesterday's hearing, ASEPA official Fa'amao Asalele told the committee that the agency will continue "to work closely with ASPA to resolve the boil water notice" as well as providing funding resources to help ASPA with water issues.
ASPA chief operation officer Reno Vivao informed senators that there are federal funds, which are for new projects or improvements, but none are available to maintain current infrastructure.
Vivao said the biggest challenge currently faced by ASPA in its efforts to improve infrastructure, is obtaining the "right of way" on privately owned land; however, despite it, ASPA must continue its efforts for improvement.
Sen. Fonoti T. Aufata commented upon the chlorine content, saying there is too much chlorine put into the water and "you can taste it."
Rea said chlorine is required to be administered to kill bacteria in the water and acknowledged that there are people who are sensitive to chlorine. However, he said it is "mandatory... not an option."
One of the concerns from senators, expressed also during the House hearing, is that the new school year begins next month, but the boil water notice remains in effect and senators wanted to know what ASPA is doing to assist the Department of Education.
ASPA officials say they have been providing coolers and large 5-gallon bottles for use by both private and public schools to store and keep water for students.
Asalele said ASEPA has been in communication with ASPA and DOE about water for schools and even pointed out approved sources of water such as water vending machines.
THE NEW COMMENTS PROCESS
To make comments, you will need to register. You can register under your real name or use a 'screen' name. This way, people will be able to follow comments and make comments back and forth to each other. If you choose to use a 'screen name' no one will know your true identity. In either case, no email addresses will be available to anyone. It is an automated process. If you have questions, email: email@example.com
You currently are not logged in, please LOGIN to post comments.