City meets with scientists to assess water risk
BY JAMES GINGERICH —
In an attempt to create productive dialogue between the city and experts, the first of several meetings on the safety of reclaimed wastewater was on Jan. 25. The experts came from backgrounds as diverse as hydrology and endocrinology, but all have been intimately involved in the study of the wastewater, a source of intense debate.
City manager Kevin Burke sought to condense the considerable amount of information presented into a more concise overview of the problems faced in hope that the city might produce a workable plan.
However, some panelists have noted that the progression plan already exists and the city’s involvement in the issue is a recent phenomenon.
“We’re ready to continue the testing with or without the city’s cooperation,” said Dr. Robin Silver, a representative of the physician community in Flagstaff. “At some point it isn’t fair that the city is not cooperating more fully, and I think that they’re now committed to do so.”
Such a focus on how further testing is essential appeared to be the primary conclusion of the meeting. The water from the treatment plant was turned off this past season before Silver and his colleagues could complete their testing.
That is not to say that the testing that has been done thus far has not revealed notable and troubling evidence of a tainted water supply. The sprinkler water was tested at several parks.
“Last season, our results showed all these antibiotic-resistant genes that came from bacteria. We don’t know whether those bacteria are living or dead, but we established that they’re there. In fact, we quantified them,” Silver said. “We counted them.”
Clayson Benally, a claimant in the original case endeavoring to halt the use of wastewater in Flagstaff — expressed similar concerns as to the untested nature of the water.
“[What risks the water presents] is something that still needs to be answered. What is in this water and how is it going to effect people?” Benally said. “Who is liable and what measures does the public have to potentially take action if there is harm to our community?”
Both the attending public and the panelists expressed the hope that this meeting was the start of a more concerted relationship between those doing the tests and those with the authority to act on the results, but with the next assembly schedules for late March, questions remain about when the water will be turned back on so the testing can resume.