2018-07-19 / News

Town worried about proposed rule that would increase water advisories

The town’s water department is concerned a regulation proposed by the state will undermine advisories that recommend boiling water.

According to the Department of Health, so-called boil water advisories are issued when biological contamination has been found in public water systems. Because bacteria die in heat, these notices recommend customers boil their water before drinking it. The precaution also advises water to be boiled if it will be used for cooking, ice, brushing teeth and washing dishes.

A pending rule, however, would require the utility company to issue these notices when the water system is not sustaining pressure of at least 20 pounds per square inch at the street level. Moreover, the proposal mandates a boil water advisory when a water main breaks. Previously, small drops in water pressure have not compelled a precaution.

Town Engineer Mike Gray said cities and towns across Rhode Island are fighting against this proposed law. He is concerned because pressure drops when there is no emergency, like hydrant flushing and firefighting drills.

“When you have instances happening repeatedly, people somewhat lose confidence in the water,” said Gray, who hasn’t issued a boil water advisory in his 14 years at the helm. “If this rule does change, notices will have to go out to the community on a regular basis.”

Town Administrator Andy Nota shares Gray’s apprehension. He believes routine advisories will lead to a lack of compliance.

“We have a great concern that if you’re getting these notices weekly, people are eventually going to ignore them because 99 out of 100 times there’s not going to be an issue. But that one time in which there is an issue, they are going to continue ignoring it.”

To emphasize the town’s concerns, Gray submitted a letter to the state last month. Because the water department does not have the technology to determine whether each loss in pressure falls below the threshold, the operators will have to make a judgement to be in compliance, he said.

“Regulations should be based upon the severity of the incident,” he wrote. “There are a number of situations that may prompt the issuance of a precautionary boil water advisory. These situations need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Boil water advisories are an important tool in protecting public health, but they also have some possible negative consequences that need to be taken into consideration.”

According to Gray, his staff follows procedures set by the American Water Works Association. By following the association’s guidelines during water main shutdowns, breaks, leaks, shutdowns and maintenance, public health can be protected.

— Tim Riel

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