Procedural mix-up at Wareham Water

Jan 20, 2020

A procedural mix-up at the Wareham Water Department triggered legally required announcements this week, although the public’s health was never at risk.

The department did not adequately respond to positive tests for total coliform -- not E.Coli -- in November.

Every subsequent sample, taken weekly, has been clean.

On November 5, the department was told that a sample from Nov. 4 tested positive for total coliform. That is, coliform, which does not necessarily pose a risk to public health, was present in the water. The sample was taken as mandated by federal law, which requires certain sampling procedures and tests.

Andrew Reid, the superintendent of the Wareham Water Department, said that the employee who received the notification about the sample with coliform then received notification that the water in the wells did not contain coliform. Believing that procedure had been followed, the employee did not continue to take samples as required.

Because the department’s management did not find out about the sample until it was notified by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in early January, it had failed to follow several steps of the procedure required by law, including repeat samples and an assessment.

The notification, required by law, was posted to the town’s website on January 19.

The department said that it completed the required assessment and the situation is considered to be resolved.

Coliform bacteria are “generally not harmful,” so the contamination was not an emergency, which requires notification within 24 hours. However, failure to follow the correct procedures could lead to ongoing contamination.

Although Reid said that he could not guarantee that the water was safe during that first week of November, it has been ever since, and the department has not received any reports of illness.

To prevent similar failures, the department has posted a flow chart delineating what steps need to be taken if a coliform-positive sample is taken.