Boca Raton Tap Water Violations Trigger Health Probe
Chronic Low Pressure Problems Risk Microbial Contamination and Boil Orders
Washington, DC — The Palm Beach County Department of Health is now looking into low pressure problems that compromise the drinking water supplies of Boca Raton, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The South Florida city had fired two of its key water Quality Control staff members this past December 17th for raising similar concerns.
To protect drinking water in its distribution system from backflows of contaminated water the City of Boca Raton must maintain pressure in its water pipes of at least 20 pounds per square inch (psi). Yet city records show that pressure fluctuates, falling to as low as 10 psi for long periods – and at some points falling close to zero psi. State regulations require that public advisories to boil tap water before using be issued if system pressure falls below 20 psi due to risk of microbial contamination of water.
In a November 5, 2008 memo from Christine Ferrigan who had served as Utility Coordinator for Boca Raton for 23 years until she and Angela Romero, an inspector, were terminated days later:
“Many residents have complained about low water pressure and a foul smell coming from their faucets, but the City of Boca Raton has never addressed this serious problem. Jokes have been made in staff meetings about the problem of low water pressure…”
In a February 20, 2009 letter, the Palm Beach County health Department formally notified the city that it was looking into a number of low pressure reports covering a ten-month period from April 2007 to February 2008. That investigation is still ongoing but does not include operational concerns at the city water agency, such as –
- Failure to test backflow prevention devices (to keep contaminated water out of the distribution system), inadequate backflow devices in many areas using reclaimed water and deceptive reports files with the state;
- A spotty inspection system that is described by the Utility Services Director as little more than a “drive-by”; and
- Boca Raton Utility Services has not replaced the two employees it terminated last year who had responsibilities covering Pretreatment, Reclaim Water, Backflow and Cross Connections.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection investigated many of these matters but concluded that it did not have jurisdiction but it is unclear whether it ever formally referred the matter to the county Health Department.
“Boca Raton utilities staff has been raising these concerns from more than two years and it appears that the only result has been their removal,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Candor about water contamination is extremely dangerous for Florida public servants.”
Read the Palm Beach County Health Department letter on water pressure concerns
Look at a sample of low pressure readings
See Boca Raton e-mail about “drive-by” inspections
View concerns by city water worker shortly before her termination