City of Poway Cited for ‘Confusing' Public During Water Quality Emergency

In a live interview with NBC 7 days before the boil advisory for the city was lifted, Poway Mayor Steve Vaus said he felt the water was safe to drink but was following the protocols of the state

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California's Water Board cited the city of Poway Thursday for their handling of a malfunction at its water treatment plant that led to a lengthy boil water advisory, which forced businesses to shutter for nearly a week.

The citation faults the city of Poway for its failure to communicate with citizens on the severity of the water quality emergency and said statements contradicting a boil advisory confused the public.

"Statements during television interviews regarding the safety of the water appeared to question the need for the extended boil water notice," the citation read.

The city of Poway said they have received the citation and "are analyzing the information, as well as evaluating options. We will be discussing the citation with the City Council in the near future."

In a live interview with NBC 7 days before the boil advisory for the city was lifted, Poway Mayor Steve Vaus said he felt the water was safe to drink but was following the protocols of the state.

Mayor Vaus answers some frequently asked questions about the boil advisory in place.

According to the state, Poway leaders claimed the water was clean and disinfected before the California State Water Resources Control Board confirmed the water was safe to use.

“There has been no contamination in our water, I’m still drinking the water; I’m going to keep drinking the water. There’s no bacteria in the water, but the state still wants some additional steps," Vaus said. "They want to check off some boxes and we just have to follow their playbook at this point."

A small piece of rope caused big problems for residents and restaurants in Poway last November. NBC 7's Dave Summers has the story.

The board will fine Poway $180 an hour for the time spent on the citation. The billable hours haven't yet been totaled, a spokesperson told NBC 7, but it will likely be in the dozens to hundreds of hours and a "pretty good chunk of change."

The citation also gives Poway a list of corrective actions that must be taken in the coming years.

Residents first noticed discolored water coming from their faucets in late November and the city issued a Boil Water Advisory the next day.

Residents were encouraged to boil tap water before consumption, and restaurants and food service companies within city limits were ordered to close until the advisory was lifted.

The advisory lasted six days.

Some businesses found ways around using the contaminated water and were granted special operating permits, but precious holiday season revenue and wages were forfeited by most owners and their employees.

Poway attributed the debacle to a faulty valve connected to a filtered water reservoir at the Lester J. Berglund Water Treatment Plant near Lake Poway. When the reservoir is at risk of overflowing, the flap opens and allows water to release into a nearby storm drain.

The city said in November that the valve somehow became stuck open, and its 16-page report revealed a piece of rope was the culprit.

NBC 7’s Gaby Rodriguez has the details on what went wrong in the Poway drinking water issue and how they plan to fix it.

The contamination prompted days of water quality testing superintended by the state. Testing confirmed the water met state standards by day three of the advisory being in place, but the city had to wait for the state to review the results and lift the advisory, a city spokesperson said.

“Actually, the water is well within our standards for drinking. I’m still drinkin’ it, but the state, they’re a little more skittish. Sacramento works in strange ways, so we’re giving out water to make sure our folks are taken care of,” Poway Mayor Steve Vaus said at the time.

At least four claims have been filed against the city in the aftermath from restaurant owners and citizens affected by the nearly week-long water problem.

While the boil water advisory was in effect, the city set up water distribution stations at Lake Poway and Poway City Hall to give residents cases of clean drinking water.

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