Mass. AG settles with town over water emergency

By Bryan Cohen | Sep 4, 2012


BOSTON (Legal Newsline) - Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley announced a consent judgment on Friday with the town of Falmouth resolving allegations that the town inadequately responded to a public water emergency.

Under the terms of the settlement, Falmouth will pay $60,000 in civil penalties and take steps to improve its water systems.

In June 2010, the town allegedly failed to respond adequately when elevated levels of coliform bacteria contaminated its drinking water and E. coli fecal bacteria was detected in some of the water samples.

"Swift and effective responses to water emergencies are critical to protecting public health," Coakley said. "We are pleased that the town of Falmouth has taken many steps to improve its public water system since these violations were discovered."

In June 2010, the town of Falmouth and its water department allegedly failed to notify the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection within 24 hours of the detected of elevated coliform levels. Over the next five days, the town allegedly continued to violate drinking water regulations when it failed to implement an emergency response plan, notify the public, or notify and consult with MassDEP when samples continued to show a water emergency.

After becoming aware of the elevated levels of bacteria, MassDEP issued a boil order requiring the town to tell residents to discard ice and any beverages or foods prepared with public water during the last week, as well as a warning to boil all town water used for teeth-brushing, dishwashing, ice-making, cooking and drinking. The town used a reverse 911 call system to inform residents of the boil order, which remained in effect for a week until bacteria levels dropped.

The town then implemented several measures to improve its public water system and emergency response plan. The town also provided additional training for its drinking water operators.

Under the terms of the settlement, the town must complete a supplemental environmental project with a consultant to develop a water systems operation plan to improve its ability to respond to problems in the future. The plan goes above and beyond compliance with regulatory requirements. It requires the town to evaluate disinfectant levels and effectiveness at multiple points through the drinking water system to help the town understand and address possible contamination issues prior to problems. Additionally, the town must contract for the completion of a watershed management and vegetation control study for Long Pond, a primary drinking source for the town.

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