3OYS reveals several complaints against Johnson Utilities

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

SAN TAN VALLEY, Ariz. -- Sewage trucks. That's what it's taking to remove thick, sludgy water and the subsequent odor that some residents say is unbearable. 

One resident who spoke to 3 On Your Side summed it up in one sentence. 

"It smells like poop," he said.

The decorative pond where the odor is coming from is supposed to be a nice greeting into a East Valley subdivision known as San Tan Heights.
The water came from Johnson Utilities, a water company that's been profiled in the news before due to complaints and problems.
But this time, the concern has to do with a stinky, mucky mess of a pond which has now come to the attention of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. 

Mindy Cross is with the agency and says they are very familiar with Johnson Utilities. 

"We have several open notices of violations against Johnson Utilities for waste water and drinking water," Cross said.

3 On Your Side looked into Johnson Utilities' background.  We discovered that just last year E-Coli was found in  their drinking water system in the San Tan Valley.
The DEQ also says unacceptable levels of fecal coliform were discovered at a reclamation plant.  And in another case, 5,000 gallons of raw sewage spilled into a wash.
3 On Your Side tried contacting Johnson Utilities to talk about their past and current complaints.
But no one returned my calls. So I went to their Scottsdale corporate office. As soon as I showed up, employees scrambled. One immediately closed an office door.

The answer I got from one employee was that no one was available to talk. And the one person who could talk was the same guy dodging my calls all day.
As for the Department of Environmental Quality, they're taking this latest complaint seriously and say some of  Johnson Utilities' past problems haven't even been resolved yet. 

"We have referred several of the cases that happened back in 2008 to the Attorney General's Office and we are currently in negotiations to settle those matters," Cross said.

As for the water being drained from the pond at San Tan Heights, new water is supposed to be added once it's completely drained.  That should take care of the odor problem. 

Also, Arizona Department of Environmental Quality took samples from the pond while it was draining, but test results have not been returned yet.

Wednesday statement from Johnson Utilities regarding San Tan pond:

Johnson Utilities continues its work to address a turbidity incident at its San Tan wastewater facility this week.  The incident was the source of an unpleasant, but harmless, odor and considerable public interest. The incident began with a partial power failure that has now been remedied. It was erroneously reported that untreated sewage was discharged into the San Tan Homeowners Association pond.

As reported to ADEQ, Johnson Utilities responded to the incident by halting discharge of effluent to the lake and removing the water for reprocessing through the WRP.  Johnson is now completely emptying the pond.  They will then remain empty until scheduled repairs by the San Tan Heights HOA are completed. The HOA is making changes to the piping connecting their two ponds. Because this work was planned before the turbidity event this week, it has allowed the HOA to take advantage of the drained pond.

The HOA ponds are used for storage of Class A + effluent for irrigation purposes only. There is no connection between the ponds and any drinking water delivery system. Johnson Utilities’ only source of drinking water is groundwater.

Earlier today, ADEQ inspected the HOA ponds, the San Tan water reclamation plant (WRP), the only lift station serving the WRP, and a grease interceptor. The lift station was found to be in compliance. The inspection of the grease interceptor showed that it had been pumped and was in good operating condition. Johnson Utilities conducts an annual inspection of grease interceptors to ensure grease is kept out of the sewer system.  ADEQ agreed that the heavy sediment that had been exposed today on the bottom of the pond is normal lake sediment caused over the years of runoff, animal waste, dust, and many other sources. This sediment will contain animal fecal material and chemicals from stormwater runoff.  ADEQ also inspected agency and on-site records, reporting no issues.