Trenton’s water quality compromised Monday — and no notice
TRENTON — Customers of Trenton Water Works have have endured everything from purple water to unsafe levels of chemicals over the years, and the state is losing its patience with "continued failure."
In a letter sent to Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson last Friday, DEP Commissioner Bob Martin cited the city's "continued failure to take the steps necessary" to provide a safe product for its water customers.
On Monday, the DEP sent New Jersey 101.5 a message saying Trenton Water Works was required to issue a boil water advisory that day "due to elevated turbidites and inadequate disinfection of delivered water." Yet for several hours, no such advisory was posted to Trenton's website.
Trenton Water Works shut down its plant at 5 a.m. on Monday morning . The DEP said the issue only applies to customers who receive their water from the treatment plant gravity service area. That includes customers in downtown Trenton, and portions of Ewing and Hamilton.
Early Monday, the website still included a notice from December of last year about higher than normal levels of Haloacetic Acid. That notice, dated Dec. 26, said the increased levels in that incident were detected on Nov. 14. A notice with an advisory for Monday appeared to go up early afternoon.
But even that notice didn't ask residents to boil water, only saying "some Trenton Water Works customers have experienced issues" and that TWW is "working with the Department of Environmental Protection and other partners
to address this matter. We will provide more information as it becomes
By Tuesday afternoon the Martin had also ordered a "system wide conservation notice" for Trenton Water Works. A statement from the DEP said the notice was given in order for customers to "conserve available water supplies."
Councilman George Muschal told the Trentonian that the city, in failing to notify residents of the issue on its website, was putting residents at risk of drinking the contaminated water.
"I don't know what they're doing. I have no idea what the city's doing," he told the Trentonian. "It wasn't the DEP's responsibility. It was the city of Trenton's responsibility. Are they asleep at the wheel? I'd like to know where the director is with all these water crises going on? Who's driving the ship? Don't get on that boat."
More broadly, the company serves much of the Mercer County area.
"The city's inability or unwillingness to act with the urgency the current situation requires potentially puts at risk the health of the 225,000 people TWW serves in the City of Trenton and in Ewing, Hamilton, Lawrence and Hopewelll townships," Martin's letter said.
As part of his letter, Martin said that in October of last year, he called for an emergency contract to be awarded to a private firm, to help clean up Trenton Water's problems and run the operation . While he said he received a draft contract since that time, Martin called it "unacceptably incomplete."
"As we know, TWW's numerous vacancies leave TWW with inadequate leadership and technical expertise, which is reflected in its inability to fulfill its purpose and legal obligation to provide a reliable and safe water supply for its consumers and critical users, including office buildings, court houses, and emergency management facilities for the local, county, State and federal governments," Martin said.
The city of Trenton was also issued a notice of violation on Jan. 5, which Martin said documented various shortcomings with the utility, but also corrective actions that the utility needs to take within 30 days of receiving the notice. Martin also said that while the DEP has been "exceedingly patient" with the city, it intends to enforce the dates outlined in the violation notice.
The letter from Martin points out that in 2014 TWW was issued an Administrative Consent Order to cover its open-air reservoir, and that the utility as "failed to timely comply or make any meaningful progress" in that effort.
Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede posted a statement on the township's website on Friday discussing the issues with Trenton Water Works as well. She said in December of last month, she initiated a meeting with Mayor Jackson and the other towns that use the utility. At that meeting, she said, she discussed her "concerns" with the utility "to ensure that safe water is continuously provided to our residents."
"I insisted on their communicating a plan as to how Trenton Water Works would remedy its infrastructure needs through future improvement projects and sought answers to how the utility would fill its shortage of licensed professional positions," Yaede said in the statement. "Additionally, I focused on the necessity of timely communication regarding issues affecting the residents of our community."
In December of last year residents noted their water had a purple hue due to increased level of the chemical potassium permenganate, which is used in the water treatment process. DEP spokesman Larry Hajna said at the time that there was no danger to the public health as the chemical is used to control odor and taste and remove other chemicals from the water. However, neither the state nor the city was able to provide New Jersey 101.5 with water testing results or even show that any testing had been conducted.
At that time, city spokesman Michael Walker said that Trenton continues to "invest millions in plant and pipe upgrades and are preparing to solve staffing issues." Walker has not yet responded respond to an email seeking comment on Monday. City offices are closed for Martin Luther King Day.
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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com