Jesse's notes from the Sept. 12 Community Water Forum
Dealing with Randolph's Water Crisis
Do you trust Randolph’s drinking water? Do you know what’s happening with our water system? I think people can only TRUST our drinking water if they KNOW what’s happening with the water system – and it’s our right as residents to hear a lot more than we’ve heard.
Try searching for what’s going on with the Randolph water crisis – you’ll find some news articles from last month’s “boil water” order, but nothing since that order was lifted. The Randolph Water Division’s website shows only general information, without daily water quality specifics, and nothing about the current problems. If you dig, you can find an annual report on water quality from 2018. To maintain trust in our water system, we need a lot more than that.
What happens if a town loses trust in its water system? That happened in Tucson, Arizona, in the early 2000s, and my job at the time was to rebuild trust in the Tucson water system after it collapsed. We did that by sharing lots of information with the public – which is what Randolph should do, to avoid a total collapse like Tucson’s.
Let me tell you Tucson’s story, then apply the lessons learned to Randolph. Tucson, a desert town, needed more drinking water, so the federal government built a giant pipe 336 miles long. Unfortunately, the mineral content was so different that the city’s water pipes corroded, and people’s water taps spewed out smelly and discolored water. Everyone had to buy bottled water, so the entire Water Department was fired, and the federal EPA stepped in to rebuild the system.
As an EPA contractor, my role was to inform the public about the new system’s water quality. We did that by installing hundreds of sensors around the city, and I created a website that compiled all of that sensor data, and reported it daily to the public, so people could see a dozen measures of water quality specific to every city block. The idea was that, to rebuild trust, everyone could see every measure of water quality every day.
Tucson’s water quality website, which I created.
The dots indicate individual sensors where you can click to see
water quality information, updated at least once daily.
Wouldn’t it be appropriate to address Randolph’s water crisis by sharing more information like that? Randolph’s water quality report comes out once a year – but our water department works every day, right now, to collect the data that goes into it – so why not show that data every day?
Sure, that would cost some money, but there are grants available for that – my job in Tucson was paid by an “EMPACT Environmental Monitoring grant,” for example. When you hear about “investing in infrastructure,” this is it – we need to spend more on our water system because it’s very old and needs repairs. This topic comes up in federal politics all the time – which means there are federal grants available to pay for that investment. Let’s find some!
Without spending any money, Randolph can start informing the public about our water crisis by holding a public forum, so that the people of Randolph can hear from knowledgeable people about what's going on. That public forum should focus on three questions:
- The Past: What happened?
What went wrong so that we had to boil our water? How did we end up with a bad pump and low water pressure?
- The Present: Is it fixed?
Permanently? What other problems is our water system experiencing? What’s needed to address the problem permanently?
- The Future: What's next?
Aren’t we getting a whole new system? How many years will that take to build? What do we need in the meantime?
I’ve heard that the new water system will take 7 years to build, and that the broken pump that caused the boil-water order was an interim fix to last those 7 years. I’m no expert on the details, and all I’ve got is word-of-mouth news. We need to hear from our town’s experts on the questions above.
I AM an expert on delivering water quality information to the public – and we certainly need more water quality information delivered to the people of Randolph – both on the Water Division’s website, and at a public forum, as soon as possible, and then ongoing information after that.
Note: A public forum has been called on the Randolph water crisis, to be held on Sept. 12 from 6:30 to 7:30 at the RICC, hosted by Councilors Ken Clifton and Katrina Huff-Larmond. I believe this is a good first step, and that residents should attend to ask questions related to those I pose above – and that we need another public forum in the future!
One of Tucson’s water quality charts from their public website.
You can get these figures for every neighborhood, and for every individual sensor,
every day or summarized by month or year.
These are the SAME data points that go into Randolph’s annual report
– we should make them more readily available!