Boise Residents Sickened By Bad Water Not Satisfied With Company's Response

Jun 8, 2012

As many as 80 residents of a west Boise neighborhood got sick over Memorial Day weekend. Turns out a nasty bacteria got into the drinking water. Boise’s United Water says it did everything in its power to fix the problem, but  some in the neighborhood say the company could have done more.

At an empty house in the Hobble Creek neighborhood a device called a backflow preventer failed to keep irrigation water out of the drinking water system. A few houses down Celeste Dayton stands in her doorway and says her family got sick because of that failure. Her kids missed school just before finals.

“It’s upsetting." She continues, "I guess I am kinda ticked off about it.”

Dayton is upset with United Water because it took five days from the time the company noticed something might be wrong before someone was sent to take a closer look.

“They didn’t do enough," Dayton says. "Cause that’s a lot of time that went by that we’re just happily guzzling our water…and getting sicker. My son’s still sick and it’s been what, over a week later?”

Mark Snider, a United Water spokesman says, “we did everything that was possible to do what we could, when we knew what the problem was.”

He starts the story on the 24th of May, a Thursday. "Our meter reader was in the Hobble Creek neighborhood reading meters,” he says.

The employee noticed an unusual number.  The next day another employee reviewed a list of all the unusual meter readings from the day before. That worker flagged the house for further inspection. But that was late Friday heading into the Memorial Day weekend. The company sent someone on the next business day four after that.  It’s that delay that upsets homeowner Celeste Dayton.

“They should have notified us immediately or they should have just checked it even if they had to come in on a Sunday or a Saturday or Monday," she says. "If there’s a bad water problem or even a possibility of, they should have figured it out and just fixed it.”

Snider defends his company by saying that most unusual meter readings don’t present safety issues and therefor can wait. He says the company could send out inspectors on a weekend but that would be expensive and customers would have to foot the bill.   

“I don’t know if the Public Utilities Commission would authorize the additional expense because that’s born by the customers in a rate case," he explains.

Snider says ultimately the responsibility for keeping irrigation water out of the drinking water system does not belong to his company.

“State law requires customers to have the proper backflow device on their system and it must be tested annually. The property owner is responsible for maintaining these very critical public safety devices," Snider says.

The real estate company for the property in question says the owner is Fanny Mae.

Two weeks after the problem was first noticed Celeste Dayton says a lot of her neighbors are still angry with the water company. Dayton though says she’s started drinking her tap water again.

“I’m not going to live in fear, I’m not going to drink bottled the rest of my life, bottled water, but I just have a lot less confidence in my drinking water." She adds, "I’ve lost a lot of confidence in United Water.”

The state however, is not pointing a finger at the water company. The Department of Environmental Quality says it’s content with United Water’s response to the contamination.