Johnson Utility customers: Company should have warned us of E. coli

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

SAN TAN VALLEY, Ariz. -- Deb Lechnir would have liked to hear about the threat of E. coli in her water from her utility company. But she didn't.

"I was having a CAT scan done this morning, and they had to inject saline into you, so when I went on the table, the technicians said it's a good thing we heard on the news last night that Johnson Utilities has E.coli in their water!"

San Tan Valley is filled with stories like Lechnir's. It's been five days since Johnson Utilities first learned its water could be contaminated, and many people are only now finding out. That has led to empty shelves and frantic shopping at the neighborhood Fry's.

"Everybody in there was doing the same thing. Panic stricken, buying water, everywhere you go, people are upset because they didn't tell us," Lechnir said. "We didn't know."

Neither did Robert and Linda Moore. They heard it on Wednesday night's news.

"I'm probably more outraged at their lack of concern for public safety," said Robert Moore.

So, looking out for themselves, they're filling up their own jugs of water from a 2,000-gallon tank provided by the Florence Unified School District. They need it for the simple things like making dinner and brushing their teeth. Robert wonders why Johnson Utilities itself isn't doing more.

"How could you do this, and is it all about money?" he asked.

The company is not taking his questions, or anyone else's, at this time, which Lechnir says only makes things worse.

"These problems happen. We could have understood it. If they had not let us know we could have taken precautions a lot earlier," she said.

The utility's only word on the matter was a written statement Wednesday, given to the media. In it, Johnson explains the days since Aug. 18, when the presence of E. coli was first found in the routine sampling of its water. The next day, the 19th, staff retested the water. Those results came two days later on Aug. 21. That water did not show any E. coli, but it did test positive for another indicator that dangerous bacteria could be present. That's when the Florence Unified School District sent out a warning.

Now the State Department of Environmental Quality has done its own sampling of the water. Those results will come in early tomorrow, Aug. 23.

Be sure to stay with 3TV for complete coverage when those results come in.