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EPA Orders Lake Wenatchee Water System to Upgrade

Release Date: 9/1/2000
Contact Information: Vaughn Blethen
(206) 553-0483

September 1, 2000 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 00-46

Citing "an acute risk to health," the regional office of the Environmental Protection Agency today ordered the 35 owners and operators of the Lake Wenatchee Water Users Association to comply with state and federal drinking water laws or risk fines of $27,500 per day. The Association, which supplies water to recreational cabins, has been out of compliance since 1993 and continues to fail to provide filtration, interim treatment and monitoring as required by state and federal drinking water regulations.
A test conducted February 29, 2000, showed the presence of E. Coli, which is a naturally occurring bacteria found in human and animal waste.

The EPA order notes that the water supplied to users comes from Fall Creek, is not treated, and poses “an acute risk to health” of residents who, since May 1998, have been advised by the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) to boil all water intended for human use.

The state “boil-water” advisory will remain in effect until an approved treatment system is in place or an alternative water source is secured.

EPA and the DOH have determined that the water system is a “public water system,” which is defined in the Safe Drinking Water Act as a system with at least 15 service connections or that regularly serves an average of at least 25 individuals daily for at least 60 days per year. Such systems are required to filter and chlorinate water derived from surface sources such as lakes or rivers.

Surface waters are “open,” meaning they are not protected from the surrounding environment and are easily contaminated with potentially dangerous microorganisms such as giardia and fecal coliform that often are found in lakes and streams. Those who consume water contaminated with these or other harmful microorganisms risk severe intestinal problems, kidney failure and even death.

Since 1991 the state Department of Health and the EPA have attempted to get the Association to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act. The Association signed a Memorandum of Understanding in March 1991, yet failed to take any of the agreed upon steps to ensure that the water conveyed from its system was safe to drink.

Chuck Findley, EPA’s Regional Administrator in Seattle said, “There is nothing more valuable than safe drinking water. The Association’s continued refusal to obey the law and protect the safety of the residents is unacceptable. There’s absolutely no excuse for this.”

The EPA order requires the Association to implement a disinfection program within six months and then to either install a filtration system or secure an alternative source within 18 months. The Association is also required to notify all Association water users of precautions they should take to protect their health.

Failure to comply with any part of the order may result in penalties of up to $27,500 per day and may result in referral to the U.S. Department of Justice which may impose additional fines of $27,500 per day per violation.