A cleanup by Johnson Utilities is underway in a San Tan Heights neighborhood after a malfunction caused a potent, sewage-like odor to emanate from the pond on the corner of Hunt Highway and Village Lane.
"I can't stand the smell, my kids can't stand the smell," said San Tan Heights neighborhood resident Debra Chatman.
"To speak for the residents here, this is the final straw. Something has to be done," added resident Michael Brown.
Residents said Johnson Utilities has not been communicating with them, which is only adding to their anger and frustration.
"It's almost as if they're not concerned. There's no communication. A breakdown in communication is the biggest problem," said Brown.
The Browns were notified of the problem after a neighbor said they received an email from Johnson Utilities.
"We just went down to pay our water bill and the whole office is like - there's nobody there. It's quiet, it's desolate, and nobody's talking down there at all," Brown said.
Residents are concerned about the health of their families and the animals that use the pond. Although this water is not used for drinking or bathing, it is used to water grass in the neighborhood.
"The water is used to spray the parks," said Brown. "We live in Arizona. When kids are hot outside, what do they do? They run in the water."
"If it continues on this way, we will be moving because there's not point in living out here. We don't pay to live in sewage," added Chatman.
Johnson Utilities spokesman Gregory Brown said in a statement:
"The San Tan Heights HOA receives treated effluent from Johnson Utilities. This treated effluent is the result of a multi-step process which produces class A+ effluent which is clean enough for human contact. However, due to a power interruption, the process which reduces the turbidity (Turbidity is the cloudiness or haziness of a fluid caused by individual particles and can reduce the oxygen content of water) was interrupted, thus allowing water into the pond which had a higher than normal turbidity.
"It was reported that fish were killed and an odor was caused by chemicals released into the pond. The fact is that fish require oxygen, turbidity limits oxygen and thusly the fish cannot survive these incidents of high turbidity. The odor is caused by the bacteria which are used in the initial stages of treating the raw waste. These bacteria were carried over with the turbid water.
"Effluent used for reuse purposes must have a turbidity of less than 2 Nephelometric Turbidity Units (NTU). Therefore, based on the high turbidity, we proceeded with draining the pond by pumping the water back into the plant for retreatment. High turbidity water can also hide pathogens from the disinfection process. Thus, in an abundance of caution, Johnson Utilities will treat the pond with chlorinated water prior to releasing treated effluent back into the pond.
"Johnson Utilities' employees are investigating the event to determine the cause and solutions to prevent this from happening in the future."
The malfunction also sparked Pinal County Supervisor Cheryl Chase, whose district includes San Tan Valley, to issue the following message:
"Today, my office became aware of an incident that occurred last night in San Tan Heights. Neighbors reported what appeared to be raw sewage in the water features outside the residential community.
"I am concerned about this issue and have spoken directly with Johnson Utilities in an effort to learn more. The utility company has assured me that raw sewage was not released and they are working with state environmental officials to resolve the problem.
"Regardless of the cause, I expect utilities serving customers in my district to alert me to major problems affecting my constituents. I was not happy to learn of this latest problem from the media."
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