Now that the Kent County Water Authority's boil-water advisory has been lifted, questions remain about both the agency's timing and its method of notification of the potentially-deadly situation. E. coli, found in a water sample Sunday, can cause vomiting and diarrhea or worse.
When Kent County Water Authority got the total coliform test result, the agency did what it has done on other occasions when a sample tested positive for total coliform – it retested. That's the protocol used by both the state health department and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
As for how often KCWA has gotten total coliform test results in the past, General Manager Tim Brown said, "It is not often that we see it. . . . probably less than 1 percent of our samples."
KCWA tests from 100 to 120 samples a week, he said. "It is rare that we see them but they do occur."
Getting a test result showing E. coli, on the other hand, had never occurred at the agency, according to Brown. KCWA was established by the General Assembly in 1946.
The agency notified the health department, then issued a boil-water advisory to media outlets – at least most media outlets. KCWA faxed the notifications. Outlets like Patch do not use fax machines. Affected municipalities were not initially notified. In addition, the agency had no customer phone alert system in place.
According to KCWA Commissioner Peter Masterson (who represents East Greenwich on the board), the agency is already exploring phone alert systems. And they have begun to institute email alerts.
"You've got to remember this has not happened before," said Masterson Wednesday. "Maybe we weren't as quick on our feet as we should have been, but I think we were. We could have been faster and next time we will, if it ever happens again."
As for where the problem started and what caused it, Brown said the agency will be looking for those answers in coming days.
"We will be focusing on the whole system to look at it, as to where possibly this could have occurred," he said.