Carlsbad Unified School District board members issued an apology to parents at a meeting Wednesday night for not catching the contaminated drinking water at Hope Elementary sooner.
Last month, the district confirmed drinking water and recycled water lines had been cross-connected, possibly over summer break, and it wasn't discovered until February despite numerous complaints from students.
The district fixed the issue within hours of confirming the cross-connection, but the district's handling of the entire situation is still leaving a bad taste in the mouths of some parents.
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"These are our children. I send my kids to school thinking they are safe, and I feel you failed us," parent Carly Paganas told board members.
"Our winter carnival, we served hot chocolate to all of the attendees and it was from the sink water," another parent named Kat said.
The district suspects the cross-connection happened during a renovation project over the summer, but is still trying to confirm when exactly it happened. A city spokesperson said the same recycled water used to irrigate golf courses and parks is what was being fed into the school’s drinking water supply. It isn’t greywater reclaimed from sinks and dishwashers some might use to irrigate their back yards, but treated wastewater.
Parents and students say the water was yellow and had a foul odor. The board president said the plumbing contractor tested the water for pathogens like e.coli bacteria several times but the tests came back negative.
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"Why was the plumbing contractor in control for which water tests were completed for safety during the period of complaints?" parent Crystal Jones asked the board.
Recycled water goes through a rigorous filtration regimen to clear pathogens. It’s still not drinking water quality and it contains nitrogen and phosphorous which are also in fertilizer, according to Carlsbad’s utility department.
"We deeply regret that intermittent water-related complaints and investigative efforts did not result in the cross-connection discovered sooner," Board President Elisa Williamson told parents.
Recycled pipes, valves and sprinkler heads are color coded. NBC 7 found examples on Hope Elementary’s campus. There are also signs indicating recycled water is not safe to drink
"Our future literally depends on your actions and inaction. Please do better. Own the problem even if you think it is not yours," parent Kim McConnel told board members.
Among other things, parents want to be reimbursed for their children’s blood tests and they want transparency from the board when water testing is happening.
Parents also suggested that the board hold a town hall-style forum next week to allow parents to ask questions, and air grievances.