Brentwood residents raise questions about water quality - KCTV5 News

Brentwood residents raise questions about water quality

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Residents are raising questions about the quality of their drinking water after samples tested positive for coliform, asking why they never received direct notification from their utility company.

Three water samples drawn on Friday tested positive for the bacteria, according to Bruce Spaulding, the consulting engineer for the Nolensville College Grove Utility District in Williamson County. Crews took the water samples from meters on Turner Lane, Pin Oak Lane, and St. Joseph's Court in Brentwood.

Additional samples collected from the same locations on Sunday showed negative results for coliform, a naturally-occurring bacteria in soil, plants, and animal and human feces, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Experts say the presence of coliform can indicate the presence of more harmful organisms, which can cause illnesses and disease. At high levels, coliform can pose health risks if ingested.

The Nolensville College Grove Utility District serves approximately 7,000 people. Spaulding said the coliform issue affected approximately 40 residents in the Willowmet and Fountainbrooke subdivisions.

"The [samples] did not show E.coli, but they did show coliform, and we wanted to show [residents] to exercise caution and consider not using the water," Spaulding said.

But several people are outraged the utility district never directly contacted customers. A message on the district's website never mentions the word "coliform" or warns residents the water might be dangerous. The note references a previous problem regarding "discolored" water that several people had reported earlier in the week.

"We are, and will continue to flush the water lines until the problem is resolved. And we will continue to take bacteria samples to insure [sic] that it is safe," the message read. "While discolored water is certainly undesirable, it is not necessarily unsafe."

Coliform or no coliform, one family said the term "not necessarily unsafe" doesn't sit well with them. The Tomaneks rushed to the market to buy bottled water in bulk on Saturday.

"Why aren't we drinking the water? Because we don't want to get sick," said Ross Tomanek, who lives on Pin Oak Lane.

Instead of receiving direct notification from the utility company, dozens of people in the affected areas received notices from their homeowner's association over the weekend. The Tomaneks found the note on their garage door.

The HOA notice warns people "SHOULD NOT" drink the tap water until further notice. It also suggested the water was safe to using for laundry and dishwashing at "high temperatures." Dated 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, the note was addressed to Willowmet residents on Pin Oak Lane, Pin Oak Circle, Whispering Willow Court, and Turner Lane.

"I don't think I can trust this utility company because of conflicting information," Tomanek said.

The utility district claims it tried reaching the residents in the affected area Saturday evening. Spaulding said several employees came to the office in Nolensville that night to dial homeowners.

But several residents said they never received a call. Spaulding said he left some of the responsibility to the HOA, which volunteered to spread the word to residents. Utility employees said it's also possible their customer database does not have up-to-date telephone numbers, but it's unclear why they couldn't reach some people. 

"I can't answer that," Spaulding said. "We made numerous phone calls. I don't know."

Another employee told Channel 4 the information on coliform couldn't appear on the website over the weekend because the person tasked with the job couldn't come in until Monday. News of the negative test results were posted to the site after 4 p.m. Monday.

"The water lines have been flushed and the water is safe to drink," the new message reads.

Spaulding said he believes the coliform originated from a 12-inch main line recently installed on Concord Road, intended to funnel water to the Fountainbrooke, Willowmet, and Bonbrook subdivisions.

The engineer said crews had tested the water at the main line as recently as Aug. 8, when it was installed. The district started receiving complaints about cloudy, dirty water less than two days later. While the water appeared to clear over the next few days, the crews tested the water again, this time from meters on people's streets. The samples yielded three positive results for coliform.

"Apparently there was a little bit of dirty water from the 12-inch line that migrated into Willowmet subdivision," Spaulding said.

Utility teams collected nine more samples from the same neighborhood, but Spaulding said they had not collected samples from the suspected source before Monday. Crews immediately shut off the water line Saturday evening upon receiving the positive test results.

In the meantime, Spaulding said residents in these subdivisions will receive water from another line, and workers will continue to "flush and test" the new main as a "precautionary measure."

"We have every reason to believe this water is safe at this time," he said.

But some, like the Tomaneks, said they – and their dogs - will stick to bottled water indefinitely.

"We haven't been provided with enough information," Tomanek said.

The utility notified the state of discoloration issues in Fountainbrooke on Aug. 12, according to Eric Ward, the deputy communications director for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. The discoloration issues are believed to stem from construction work on Concord Road.

"NCGUD immediately began flushing the water lines upon receiving complaints from residents, and is continuing to do so at TDEC's recommendation," Ward wrote in an e-mail. "Bacterial test sample results collected last week tested negative."

The utility district notified TDEC of the positive coliform samples on Monday morning, two days after employees received positive test results.

It's unclear if any state agencies will fine the utility district.

"At this point, it is too early to determine," said Eric Ward, deputy communications director for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

Spaulding said the utility district draws at least 25 routine water samples per month throughout the distribution grid, and coliform tests are included in those screenings. EPA regulations require a district the size of NCGUD to draw routine water samples at least eight times per month.

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