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Forbes water clean, doubts persist

By Sean McLachlan
Arizona Summer Wildcat
August 4, 1999
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Arizona Summer Wildcat

After nearly two weeks of contamination, water in the Forbes building tested clean for bacteria yesterday, but UA specialists are concerned the problem may resurface.

"We want to keep looking at the situation" said Al Tarcola, director of University of Arizona Facilities Management.

Facilities workers first detected coliform bacteria in the water supply of the Forbes building, 1140 E. South Campus Dr., and the McKale Center, 1721 E. Enke Dr., on July 19. Coliform bacteria is commonly found in human and animal intestines, and can cause illness if ingested.

There were no reports of illnesses, and the most dangerous type of coliform - E. coli - was not detected, said UA spokeswoman Sharon Kha.

Although pipes in both buildings were disinfected with chlorine, UA water systems manager Bill Witschi said the 80-year-old piping in the Forbes building could cause more problems.

Witschi plans to remove "dead legs"- unused parts of the system where water can pool and become breeding grounds for bacteria.

In the future, UA water may be treated with chlorine to kill bacteria before they grow, Witschi said.

While Tucson's water is treated with chlorine, the university hasn't treated its water since 1994.

"There were a lot of complaints I received concerning the chlorine levels I was maintaining in our system," he said.

He said "a fallout of CAP difficulties"- referring to Tucson's brief experiment with Central Arizona Project water that left many homes with corroded pipes and murky water - made many people suspicious of what was coming out of their taps.

"In retrospect, it wasn't the right thing to do, but if (chlorination) would have stopped the problem in Forbes, -t's hard to say," he said.

University officials are also weighing a plan to give laboratories a separate pipe system. They are concerned that fertilizers from the Department of Agriculture labs in Forbes may be infecting the water supply.

"You wash the plants and the dirt goes down the drain," Kha said, adding that the dirty water could be getting mixed with clean water since the old pipes don't have valves to prevent backflow.

"There's a lot of dangerous stuff on this campus...and we don't want it in our drinking water system," Witschi said.

The repiping would take about three months and cost in excess of $100,000, Kha said.

Until then, students and staff at Forbes will be able to drink from office coolers provided by the university.