In the run up to the last election, in which multiple city commissioners were seeking re-election in the face of the failures of the water system, the city created a tax-payer funded website to share information about the water system designed to cast it in a positive light. One of the claims on the website is that “drinking water quality will never be affected by wastewater treatment.” This claim obviously overlooks the nature of our aquifer and the entire rationale for environmental standards on wastewater treatment.
Although it is scientifically possible for failures in wastewater treatment to impact the quality of our drinking water, the question remains: did this actually happen in Winter Springs? Did the repeated wastewater spills experienced in the City of Winter Springs actually contaminate our drinking water supply? Is there data to support this possibility?
Let’s examine the relevant terms and data:
- The primary concern with wastewater is fecal coliform. This can be present in the environment and is caused by fecal matter from either humans or animals. Bacterial coliform is the EPA tested compound which may be caused by a variety of things, including fecal coliform.
- In its investigation of our wastewater treatment plants, the DEP found that between 2018 and 2020, the City did not properly test for fecal coliform in the wastewater, as legally required. This finding was one of several ways in which the test results of the wastewater plants were not properly conducted or reported, a finding which ultimately led to a consent order and severe fines against the City of Winter Springs.
- During this same 2018-2020 time frame, while the tests were not being reported to the state, data shows the levels of fecal coliform in the wastewater exponentially increased up to as high as 20,000 #/100mL, which is more than 800 times the legal limit.
- During this 2018-2020 timeframe, in which fecal coliform of more than 800 times the legal limit was not being properly reported to the state, in April 2019, the annual drinking water report indicated three different tests results of the drinking water showed bacterial coliform in excess of EPA standards.
It is a very reasonable conclusion to infer the colossal failures of our wastewater system, which was not properly tested and reported, which showed astronomical levels of fecal coliform in the wastewater, a system which repeatedly illegally pumped by tens of thousands of gallons of untreated or partially treated wastewater into the environment as the only known and most likely cause to result in a violation of EPA testing standards for levels of bacterial coliform in the drinking water.
It is our opinion that the best analysis of the testing data, DEP findings, and EPA test results indicate a very high certainty that the failures of the Winter Springs wastewater treatment plants did in fact contaminate the drinking water system. It is also reasonable to conclude the city’s response to the detection of bacterial coliform led to an increase of chlorination treatments, which resulted in the TTHM and other secondary test violations occurred in the following years.