By Janet S. Joakim
I was still in Florida when phone calls started coming in late Saturday night. I spent much of the day yesterday on the phone from out of state as our staff worked to resolve the issues surrounding the water company’s older storage tank.
The storage tank tested positive for E. coli and the water was to be treated as the tank would be repaired.
Despite the fact that the tank was being processed to get rid of any harmful bacteria and the active water supply remained untouched, on Saturday night the state issued a mandate that a press release be sent, and protocol for such, designed by the state, was followed.
It is a little frustrating to note that all of this was done despite the fact that no bacteria was ever found in the supply of water being delivered to users, and that that part of the message remained mostly unspoken by television reporters etc. The press releases advised people per state recommendations to boil water before drinking, brushing teeth etc as a preventative measure until testing could confirm there continued to be no danger to the water supply.
Several people have asked why we couldn’t take this tank off-line, empty it, clean it and repair the holes. This tank supplies the reserves needed/required by the Hyannis Fire Department. So the tank had to remain full and even though not supplying water to users, it had to be connected, although the connection was not open, and ready to supply water in case of emergency need by the HFD while the water was safely chlorinated.
The town has access to a system that will notify residents of disasters or emergencies via phone which has yet to be fully engaged, but if the bacteria had reached the water supply, the town would have employed it. If the test results today showed the E. coli had not been eliminated from the storage tank, we would have utilized this system.
Despite the fact that the active Hyannis water supply remained free of bacteria, the fact that protocol suggests water users err on the side of caution and boil water, makes sense. We will be examining the way the information was disseminated and consider that we should employ the phone notification in cases where information about something this important can be confusing and frightening.
Clearly, relying on the media to deliver the complete story is not fair to any of us. This was evident to me when I watched one news station deliver only part of the message. The story would have frightened me if I didn’t already know the whole story.
There is no question that this crisis was frightening and at the least, inconvenient to residents. I hope everyone knows that resolving any issues that effect our public water supply is a number one priority.
Last weekend we lost power for much too long, and we are all collectively unhappy with the way the electric company handled this crisis. This message has been delivered to the executives at NStar and we will follow up on that complaint. The electric company knew the storm was coming, they should have a clear plan to handle the damaged power-lines and downed trees, and they should have had enough staff to handle the problems faster than they did.
Please know that our staff who are responsible for our water supply worked hard to resolve this issue as quickly and efficiently as possible. Decisions were not made based on experience as owning a water company is new to many of them. They followed the advice and protocol of the experts, and learned lessons along the way.
I personally apologize to anyone who was frightened or inconvenienced and want to be sure that everyone knows that your town’s staff was working around the clock to resolve the problems and to ensure your safety. This is not “political-speak.” This is the truth.
Janet S. Joakim
Barnstable Town Council President