SALT LAKE CITY (CN) - A small central Utah water supplier's failure to monitor for feces should cost it big, no matter how many people drink from its well, the federal government says. Bristlecone Water Improvement District, near Bryce Canyon and Canyonlands National Parks, first failed to monitor for coliform and nitrate in 1999, and though the U.S. EPA asked Utah to take action in 2004, the state did not.
Bristlecone's well serves about 160 people, including three residential hookups to seven full-time residents and seven outlets at two hotels, two restaurants, a RV park and a store, according to the federal complaint.
The supplier failed to test its water annually through 2009, in violation of National Primary Drinking Water Regulations, federal prosecutors say.
The Environmental Protection Agency fined Bristlecone in 2004, but the company never paid up.
All "'public water systems,' which provide water through pipes or other constructed conveyances to either 15 service connections or to 25 individuals at least 60 days per year" must monitor for bacteria, the complaint states.
Congress enacted the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974, after the EPA reported in 1971 that 41 percent of the community water systems it studied were delivered "inferior quality" water to millions of people. "The [EPA] study also discovered that
360,000 people in the surveyed areas were receiving 'water of a potentially dangerous quality.' The study also noted that many community water supplies were being improperly operated and were putting public health at risk. In fact, a major conclusion of the study was that the nation was suffering from inadequate monitoring of the quality of its public water systems," according to the complaint. (Citations omitted.)
Water systems nationwide are divided into two categories: community water systems and noncommunity water systems. No-community water systems are also divided into two categories: transient noncommunity water systems and nontransient noncommunity water systems.
A transient noncommunity water system, such as the defendant, does not regularly serve at least 25 of the same people for more than 6 months per year.
EPA guidelines "require transient non-community water systems that serve a population of less than 1,000 and whose water supply comes solely from groundwater to monitor for coliform once every quarter. If a water sample tests positive for coliform, the NPDWRs require a transient non-community water system to monitor for coliform four times within 24 hours of discovering the positive coliform sample."
"On or about March 2, 2004, EPA sent a notice of violation to the State of Utah, which has primary enforcement authority under the SDWA, requesting that it enforce the NPDWRs against Defendant. Thirty days after EPA sent the notice of violation, the State of Utah declined to take any enforcement action against defendant."
Bristlecone still "has not reported any of its violations of the NPDWRs ... to the public as required by the NPDWRs, prior EPA orders, and defendant's agreement to do so," the complaint states.
Uncle Sam demands more than $6,000 in fines and civil penalties of up to $32,500 per day since Bristlecone's system tested positive for coliform in 2008.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.