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Wed, Nov. 13

Potable water connection up and running for Wilhoit Water Co. customers

Special to the Review

The independent certified operator for Wilhoit Water Co.-Yavapai Estates has successfully turned on a potable water connection between a City of Prescott fire hydrant and the company's formerly arsenic-tainted line, Arizona Corporation Commissioner Kris Mayes said this past Friday.

Prescott Pump Service this past Monday began directly issuing safe drinking water to the taps of the more than 250 customers of Wilhoit Water Co. in Chino Valley.

"The company sent out notices on Monday afternoon that the interconnection was live and activated, and that customers were securing water from the City of Prescott," Mayes said. "Customers will continue to receive that water until arsenic remediation equipment has been implemented."

The safe connection began flowing a few days after the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality delivered to the company conditional Approval of Construction, which permitted the City of Prescott to install a water meter and a backflow prevention device on the fresh pipe.

Wilhoit Water Co. now has about a week to submit to ADEQ leak test and bacterial test results on the new line. If the results are favorable, the company will receive a full Approval of Construction.

Mayes said the Corporation Commission has received assurances from the City of Prescott that it will continue providing the potable water connection through the end of the year - as long as Wilhoit Water Co. is making diligent efforts to install permanent arsenic treatment equipment on its two wells here, a process that could take three to six months.

At an informal settlement conference between Wilhoit Water Co. and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality Jan. 26 in Phoenix, the company did not submit an arsenic remediation plan for its wells, leaving the door open for ADEQ to pursue legal action after the company's appeal of the department's compliance order ends.

ADEQ director Steve Owens said the goal of the settlement conference was for Wilhoit Water to agree to comply fully with his department's order and end the matter without going to court.

Now, ADEQ has scheduled a formal administrative hearing March 9 in Phoenix, where an administrative law judge will determine the fate of the company's appeal.

Jan. 30, State Rep. Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, and State Sen. Tom O'Halleran, R-Sedona, played host to a meeting of the Arizona legislature to discuss the Wilhoit Water Co. situation. Mayes, ADEQ director Steve Owens and Chino Valley town manager Bill Pupo were among those in attendance.

Mayes came out of that meeting saying the Corporation Commission will continue pressing Wilhoit Water Co. to cooperate with ADEQ's compliance order, which, to date, the company has failed to do.

"At this point, the commission is focused very intently that Wilhoit Water Co. must comply with arsenic remediation," Mayes said. "It's not optional. The company must do this in a reasonable time frame or there will be consequences (i.e.-fines and/or possible change of company ownership)."

On Oct. 24, ADEQ reported a water sample collected from the Chino Valley well serving Yavapai Estates and Antelope Valley Apartments had arsenic levels of 316 parts per billion - a figure 30 times greater than the Environmental Protection Agency's arsenic standard for drinking water of 10 ppb.

One month later, ADEQ issued a compliance order to Wilhoit Water to deliver safe drinking water to all of its customers and develop a long-term plan for treating the arsenic-laced water in the well.

ADEQ gave the company until late January to submit a proposal for bringing its troubled water system into compliance with the federal government's arsenic standard, and until June 1 to comply with the same standard.

"It's not just a requirement of the ADEQ, but of the Corporation Commission," Mayes said.

Contact the reporter at dcook@prescottaz.com

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