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State Water Board cites Poway over handling of water issues that led to boil water advisory

Posted at 1:38 PM, Jan 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-16 19:23:38-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- In a harshly worded letter, the State Water Resources Control Board criticized the City of Poway for its handling of the water issues that led to a weeklong boil water advisory late last year, and the agency said it plans to send the city a bill for its involvement.

In the letter addressed to Poway officials and obtained by 10News, the state water board “determined that Poway failed to protect its public water system from backflow contamination, failed to provide pure, wholesome, healthful and potable water by delivering untreated storm drain water to customers …”

The state water board also took the city to task for its communication of the water problems to the public, saying, “Statements during television interviews regarding the safety of the water appeared to question the need for the extended boil water notice. Water quality results confirming the cleaning and disinfection of the T10 clearwell on December 3, 2019 were first available on December 6, 2019. The State Water Board approved the lifting of the boil water notice shortly thereafter. Until then, communications contradicting or minimizing the boil water notice risked confusing the public about the public health impacts of the contamination.”

The board went on to say that the city “will be billed at the State Water Board hourly rate for the time spent on issuing this Citation.” That hourly rate last year was $180 an hour.

That bill will be sent to the city “around August 2020” and “will contain fees for any enforcement time spent on Poway for the current fiscal year.”

In response to the board's letter, a city spokesperson told 10News: "We are in receipt of the citation and are analyzing the information, as well as evaluating options. We will be discussing the citation with the City Council in the near future."

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According to the state water board’s findings, amid heavy rainfall on the morning of Nov. 29, 2019, Poway water officials began receiving complaints of discolored water from customers.

An investigation found that a pipe backed up and caused storm water to enter the city’s reservoir. The state citation says a rope obstructed flapper gates in an overflow box.

The following day, more customer complaints were received and after further testing, Poway issued a citywide boil water advisory.

The advisory lasted until Dec. 6 after test samples from the city’s water supply were examined by the state and cleared.

The water issue had a negative impact on businesses, especially some Poway restaurants which had to shut down. The order also forced many residents and businesses to rely on bottled water, which the city provided daily.