Buried in the “Public Notices” portion of my local newspaper, I found a notice from my local water agency. Its title was “Important Information About Your Drinking Water.” The subtitle stated that the “Agency Did Not Meet Treatment Requirement (Turbidity).” I thought I should give that a read!
Using this newspaper, the Agency reported to the public that it had violated a drinking water standard. Is fine print buried in the back of the local newspaper an appropriate way to let people know that their water did not meet standards? Well, no — unless the situation did not constitute a public health emergency. In this case, that was clearly stated in the notice: “This is not an emergency. If it had been, you would have been notified immediately. We do not know of any contamination, and none of our testing has shown disease-causing organisms in the drinking water.”
If such a dire event had occurred, it would be deemed a “Tier I Violation.” Immediate public notification would be required of the water agency within 24 hours. That means the newspaper wouldn’t really suffice; radio and television notification would be needed so that everyone in the community would refrain from drinking water directly from the tap until the situation was resolved.
In this case, the agency had a “Tier II Violation.” The California Department of Public Health deemed that there was no imminent threat to the public, so there was no need to immediately inform them. The Tier II Violation is like getting a bad report card. The water agency screwed up. What happened should not have happened. But, fortunately, the screw up did not constitute an immediate, serious public health risk. With a Tier II Violation, the water agency needs to inform its customers of its poor performance within 30 days, and the fine print of the local newspaper is an acceptable method.
So no one is the wiser, correct? The water agency got away with it! Not hardly! You see, once you pay to put a notice like that in the newspaper, someone from the newspaper starts asking embarassing questions. And then you get to the front page!