Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Germantown Citizens Deserve Better

While our administration has been proactive in attracting development, it has been reactive in addressing infrastructure issues. It is essential that these priorities shift. Some might call this Monday morning quarterbacking, but I believe that recent events prove that Germantown citizens deserve more proactive leadership in the area of essential services, infrastructure, public safety, and transparency. 

I do not claim to have any special knowledge about water safety, but I know that there are systems in place that can detect diesel spillage and pipe breaks. The first order of business of the administration and the BMA should be to provide checks and balances in our water system, and make sure that there are redundancies that ensure the citizens have continuous access to safe water. Due to a lack of transparency by the City, we do not yet know the source of the diesel that contaminated our water system. If a leaky generator was the cause, was there a containment system around it? If so, why didn't it contain the fuel? How long was the pipe broken to the water tank? What discharge seeped into our water prior to the diesel leak? What calculations were made that came up with the approximate number of 100 gallons of diesel in the system. Where are the actual lab reports?  I could go on and on. The citizens deserve this information.  

We also all know the issues our water drainage system has faced, with 100 year floods now being the norm. I realize it will take several years to fix the storm drains. The City needs to regularly check to make sure the storm drains that we do have are clear, and citizens need to help the City by reporting blocked storm drains. 

I want to say a big "thank you" to the employees who worked tirelessly on the diesel leak issue, and, given the lack of leak detection systems, actually found and fixed the pipe leak causing the diesel to contaminate our water.    

Still, I have a couple of questions about the response. It took approximately seven hours between the time that citizens reported the smell of diesel in the water and the administration issuing the "flush only" order. Had the water tank been tested first, rather than the treatment plant, that time could have been cut to about an hour. Given that there was a diesel generator by the water tank, I am not sure why that wasn't checked post haste. Needless to say, response time is critical in emergency situations.  

I also question the "all clear" notice for people east of Forest Hill. 
That area shares the same water system as the rest of Germantown. The notice was issued without any testing, and the recommended flushing of the system actually brought diesel into some of the homes in the area. Social media posts confirm this.


Once the City was notified of the problem, it responded by simply asking citizens in the area to report the problems.  Later, in his news conference, Mayor Palazzolo was asked about this:

"As we give flushing instructions, it would be natural to, think this through, that as the water began to go through the system, it could as that residue leaves, produce odor, and actually that would be a positive sign that it is now leaving. And we have asked our residents to report that so that we can send one of our crews there to evaluate the system more closely." 

Surely he didn't mean that it was a good idea for a home to replace good water with diesel filled water?  If it was a good idea to flush the system of diesel through people's homes, why weren't we all asked to do it? It obviously would have been a better idea to wait for the fire hydrants to clear the area first so that diesel filled water wouldn't erode pipes and appliances in homes.

And, yes, Germantown needs to take its reporting responsibilities of water testing a lot more seriously. WREG reported that Germantown Water had more violations than any other water system in the County, although it is the fifth in size.   

We found 15 violations, some as far back as 2004, at the Southern Avenue water plant and Johnson Road filter plant.

Even though some of the violations are older, a column marked routine monitoring violations is called major. Apparently, there were problems with monitoring the water system.

The violations also list the analyte group name, which is the type of substance involved. We found everything from nitrate to asbestos and chlorine violations.   

Waypoint Analytical on Violations in Shelby Coumty Water Systems:

What's done is done. Fortunately, this was merely an  inconvenience (albeit a large one) for most of our community. But it was much more than that for our hospital, which postponed surgeries, for restaurants and their employees, for dialysis patients who had to reschedule or skip their appointments, for pregnant mothers who are now concerned about the water they drank, and for parents of infants who used the water with formula. And yes, there were people who were sickened by using the water.

Let's move on together, making sure we keep a close watch on our leadership as they navigate through this crisis, and take the appropriate actions that show they are being proactive in avoiding issues such as this in the future.

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