Portsmouth City Manager Sam Sutherland didn’t mince any words.
“We messed up by not sampling,” Sutherland said. “We misinterpreted our testing schedule.”
During the last week, along with their water bills, Portsmouth city water customers also should have received a letter dated Sept. 30 explaining the water department failed, as required by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, to test as frequently as mandated the source of the city’s drinking water, namely the Ohio River, for substances known as cyanobacteria.
The letter states, and Sutherland confirmed, the city did not live up to required testing standards between May 5 and July 13.
Sutherland emphasized he does not in any way believe there ever was any problem with Portsmouth’s drinking water. He specifically noted the state mandates testing the source of the city’s water, which as indicated, is the Ohio River. Rules do not require Portsmouth test treated drinking water, at least not for cyanobacteria.
According to Sutherland, what the city failed to test for was a type of cyanobacteria known as microcystin. Natural waters are especially prone to develop that particular bacteria during hot months. In fact, Sutherland stated OEPA launched the requirement to test for microcystin following an algae outbreak on Lake Erie a few years ago which fouled the water supply for the city of Toledo. During the outbreak, residents were urged to purchase bottled drinking water.
Sutherland said the OEPA essentially sets the city’s water testing schedule. At one point city officials believed they were to be testing for cyanobacteria every other week. Sutherland added the testing repeatedly showed bacteria levels well below any level at which the city would need to take action.
“We thought we were on a reduced testing schedule,” Sutherland said. “We thought we were in the clear.”
Actually, during what Sutherland called the peak warm weather months stretching from May to November, the city should have been testing for three types of specific cyanobacteria every week. The state notified the city of their mistake in July and Sutherland said Portsmouth undertook testing July 24, again with what Sutherland termed no reportable results.
Sutherland further noted cyanobacteria, including microcystin, grows best in warm, stagnant water. During the time the city was not testing to OEPA standards, Portsmouth received a great deal of rain and Sutherland maintained the Ohio River was high and flowing quickly. In any case, he several times asserted the city never has had anything close to a positive result for microcystin. He said rules call for the city to take certain measures if levels of the bacteria reach five micro grams per liter. But he added the three cyanobacteria for which the city tests never have hit a level higher than .018.
“I’m confident there’s no problem.” Sutherland said.
He added the OEPA required the warning letter sent out by the city. In the letter and in comments made later, Sutherland said anyone wishing to see the results of city testing may obtain those results by contacting the Portsmouth water department, (740) 456-4946.
Reach Tom Corrigan at (740) 370-0715. © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.