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7:59 AM Wed, Dec. 12th

ADEQ: Wilhoit not doing enough

CHINO VALLEY ‹ Two weeks removed from a state agency's order to do so, Wilhoit Water Co. has agreed to deliver bottled water, upon request, to its customers who have been affected by arsenic contamination in the company's wells here.

However, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, which issued the mandate to Wilhoit in late December, and Town of Chino Valley officials, who learned of this latest news Thursday afternoon, say the company's still not doing enough.

ADEQ Director of Communications Cortland Coleman said Friday that his department spoke with Wilhoit owner Robert Conlin earlier this week, imploring Conlin to deliver bottled water to all of the company's customers ‹ without any of them having to ask for it.

Conlin, whom a company spokeswoman said was away from his office and in Wisconsin Friday, remained unavailable for comment.

"This is unacceptable," said Coleman, adding that further enforcement action from ADEQ may be necessary in this case. "The company is obligated by law to provide water to all customers in its service area. Time has not run out for Wilhoit to do the right thing."

The conversation comes a couple of weeks after Steve Owens, director of ADEQ, issued a compliance order to Wilhoit Water Co.-Yavapai Estates requiring the company to provide safe drinking water to each of its Chino Valley customers.

In late October, ADEQ determined that the company was issuing water from its Chino well that had arsenic levels of 316 parts per billion, more than 30 times higher than the federal government's standard of 10 parts per billion for drinking water.

On Dec. 5, ADEQ submitted a notice of violation to Wilhoit for serving unsafe, arsenic-laden drinking water to at least 250 of its customers in Yavapai Estates and a portion of Antelope Valley Apartments.

When the company did not voluntarily buy and distribute bottled water to its customers over the holidays, ADEQ hired Sparkletts Bottled Waters in Prescott to make two separate deliveries of safe drinking water in 31-gallon tanks to every customer's residence. ADEQ used money out of its emergency fund to supply the water.

"The emergency procurement over the holidays has all been delivered," Coleman said.

Chino Valley Town Manager Bill Pupo said Friday that he's not satisfied with Wilhoit's response, either, and will meet with ADEQ and Arizona Corporation Commission officials Monday in Phoenix in hopes of rectifying the situation.

"It's Wilhoit's responsibility to provide bottled water as a matter of good business practice," Pupo said. "They're charged to do that under the emergency plan (with ADEQ). They're in non-compliance, and there shouldn't be any effort on the part of customers to have to buy water."

Pupo said that he is encouraging the residents in Yavapai Estates (south of Road 3 South and east of Highway 89) and Antelope Valley Apartments (1555 S. Highway 89) to call Wilhoit and request potable water deliveries.

"Between Christmas and New Year's, we understood that Wilhoit would distribute bottled water," Pupo said. "But we don't know if anyone received it."

Wilhoit has until late January to submit a proposal to ADEQ that would bring the company's water system into compliance with the federal arsenic standard, and until June 1, 2007, to comply with that standard.

In late December, Conlin mailed a letter to his customers in which he stated, "If anyone deemed to be in a special, more at-risk age group is unable financially to purchase drinking water from a retail source, we will personally try to help them. Such water is available at almost all grocery stores."

Conlin added that his customers were receiving water from the same wells his company has pumped from for the past 35 to 40 years.

"We know of no one who has become ill as a result of drinking the water," Conlin wrote, and stated, "arsenic levels (in wells) do change periodically." He said that his company's tests for arsenic in the wells have not always reflected the same amounts of the chemical through the years.

To contact Wilhoit, call 928-634-3760 or 928-639-1308 during business hours or send a written request to P.O. Box 870, 901 First Street, Clarkdale, AZ 86324.

For more information about ADEQ's water-quality standards and options for treating arsenic-contaminated water, or to file a complaint against Wilhoit, call the department toll free at 800-234-5677, ext. 771-4644.

Contact the reporter at dcook@prescottaz.com