SALIDA -- Modesto notified water customers in Salida this week that a well failed to meet health standards for a common contaminant.
Public Works Director Dennis Turner said the city received a violation notice from the California Department of Public Health for failing to shut down the Sisk Road well after it exceeded the health standard for nitrates Dec. 5.
Regulations required a follow-up test within 24 hours of the failed test to determine whether the reading was valid. That wasn't done. and the well remained in operation until Jan. 8.
"We are working with (state officials) to find a solution they are comfortable with," Turner said.
State officials weren't available to discuss the violation or potential penalties.
City officials said the nitrate level was 68 parts per million, well more than the 45 ppm standard for drinking water. According to a state fact sheet, ingesting nitrate-contaminated water can be harmful to infants and pregnant women because the contaminants may interfere with the blood's ability to carry oxygen.
Nitrates are used in the production of fertilizers, prompting public water systems across the country to routinely test for the contaminant.
City officials said the test results were not an emergency. During the five-week period, the well across the street from the Salida library operated for about an hour a day. When in operation, it supplies about 10 percent of Salida's water.
'We take ownership'
City Manager Greg Nyhoff and other staff attended the Salida Municipal Advisory Council meeting Tuesday to explain the letters to more than 100 residents in attendance. Modesto has handled water service in Salida since acquiring a private water company.
"We take ownership of what happened here," Nyhoff said. "We'll fix it and get the well back online."
Turner said Wednesday that human error was to blame for not promptly taking the well out of service. "We have protocols for what to do in event this happens," he said. "In this case, someone else thought the other person was handling it."
Turner said the department is changing protocols so that there's better communication between the lab and staff responsible for taking action.
Officials said more recent tests on the well have met the standard, but the results suggest that the levels could spike again. The city will consider installing treatment devices, making repairs to the well or shutting it permanently.
State approval is required before putting it back in service.
Salida MAC Chairman Thomas Reeves said he was satisfied with the city's explanation at Tuesday's meeting. "We can fault them for the mistake, but they owned up to it," he said.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2321.