Johnson Utilities is disinfecting a polluted wash close to the Pecan Creek neighborhood near where the utility spilled more than 10,000 gallons of sewage about four months ago. The privately owned utility and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality worked out a deal this week that would satisfy state regulators.
|http://www.eastvalleytribune.com/images/photos/2008/09/17/5pm7jx.gif" alt= " Johnson Utilities' Pecan Water Reclamation Plant, Queen Creek Wash, QUEEN CREEK, PINAL COUNTY, MARICOPA COUNTY, Combs Rd., Ellsworth Rd., Ocotillo Rd., Gantzel Rd., Ironwood Dr., Cloud Rd., Empire Blvd., Queen Creek Rd., Hunt Hwy., Graphic by Scott Kirchhofer/EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE" vspace="0" hspace="0" border="0" />|
On Monday, Johnson Utilities was attempting to disinfect the wash with potassium permanganate, a chemical that is billed as being a relatively low risk to fish, according to a portion of the consent order agreed to by ADEQ and Johnson Utilities.
There's no indication that fish live in the seasonal wash. However, ADEQ had shot down an earlier proposal by Johnson Utilities to chlorinate it because of the detrimental effect it could have on wildlife in the area. A resolution took months of back and forth between the utility and ADEQ. "The bottom line was this - chlorine is toxic," said Mark Shaffer, communications director for ADEQ. "The use of potassium permanganate isn't, in the dosage approved for this operation."
The utility spilled more than 10,000 gallons of sewage in mid-May when sewage pumps became clogged and overloaded near the Pecan Water Reclamation Plant, located on Gantzel Road south of Chandler Heights Road. Several thousand gallons flowed through a spillway and into the wash, according to ADEQ's findings.
Johnson Utilities, however, has disputed that their leak of raw sewage has led to elevated levels in the waterway of E. coli, a potentially hazardous bacteria. Company officials assert that most of the raw sewage was cleaned up before it reached the wash.
E. coli can cause potentially serious kidney problems for the elderly and children, as well as milder problems such as stomach cramps and diarrhea.
The wash is located on about 100 acres where people from the Pecan Creek neighborhood used to ride bikes and ATVs.
Johnson Utilities, meanwhile, characterized the wash cleanup as a "public service," even though they were required to work out an agreement with ADEQ.
Jeffrey Crockett, a Phoenix attorney who works for the utility, said the company has performed tests on standing water that receives runoff in other areas of the Valley and that they also show elevated levels of E. coli even though they experienced no raw sewage spills."The sewage spill did not affect the change in the quality of that water - period," said Crockett. "Johnson Utilities does not believe that the sewage overflow made it into that standing body of water."
The agreement to clean up the wash comes as Johnson Utilities plans to expand to serve larger portions of the Pinal County area. The Arizona Corporation Commission tied Johnson's compliance with state environmental regulators to that expansion.
No test results were available Tuesday. Crockett said that the company will come into compliance after tests show the disinfectant has lowered the levels of pollution in the wash.
There were no quick solutions to cleaning up the polluted wash, which was eventually gated off from residents by the Pecan Creek homeowners association.
After discussing options for two months, ADEQ issued an order to clean up the wash in mid-July.
Johnson Utilities appealed it, and a hearing this month preceded the agreement.