The California Department of Public Health spelled out what Modesto should have done when high nitrate levels were detected in a Sisk Road well in December. The city was required to collect a confirmation sample within 24 hours and, within 24 hours, notify the public the water didn't meet health standards. It was also supposed to turn off the well immediately, said Cindy Forbes, chief of a field operations branch for CDPH.
The Dec. 5 test results were from a yearly test, so officials don't how long the well was supplying unhealthy water. The well kept running for five weeks until someone at City Hall noticed that no one had taken the required action. Public Works Director Dennis Turner attributed the lapse to miscommunication and human error.
The well is part of the system that supplies drinking water to homes, schools and businesses in the unincorporated community of Salida. In responding to Bee questions, Forbes said the city is not facing penalties. The agency required the city water department to send the letters that arrived in customers' mail boxes this week and prepare a report to the state on corrective measures. The well will remain off-line until the state agency is assured the water is safe to drink.
"The city will need to provide some type of approved treatment prior to using the well again," Forbes said in an e-mail.