Decatur water worries unfounded

Staff Writer

    Media reports of lead in water misleading;IDEM apologizes to city.
    A visibly distraught Mayor Ken Meyer, responding to inaccurate media reports, said at Tuesday night’s city council meeting that the city’s drinking water is, without question, safe for consumption.
    “To the citizens of Decatur, our drinking water is good, very good,” the mayor said.
    Apparently, the Indianapolis Star, seizing upon an Indiana Environmental Management Agency survey, published a story on drinking water in 91 Indiana communities. The survey asked communities how many lead service lines each had, and said an estimate would suffice if an accurate figure was not available.
    The survey, IDEM officials told Decatur officials on Tuesday, was strictly what it called an “asset management tool” designed to help the state secure federal funds.
    As to the number of lead service lines, “all we could do was guess,” Meyer said, since there are no accurate figures available due to the fact that many of the lines are quite old. So the number given by Decatur officials was estimated, and that figure apparently was high when compared with those of many other cities.
    The Star story saying Decatur had a high number of lead service lines went out statewide over The Associated Press network, with TV and radio stations throughout the area quickly picking up on the story.
    “What the article didn’t include is the fact that our water has tested safe year after year,” Meyer said in a statement read at the council meeting. So safe, in fact, that IDEM requires the water be tested here only once every three years instead of every year.
    The lead level in Decatur’s water was last tested at 4.8 parts per billion gallons; anything less than 15 is acceptable, the mayor noted.
    He hinted that many communities didn’t turn in accurate numbers, pointing out that 47 of the 91 counties surveyed reported no lead in their service lines. “How can that be?” he asked.
    City Utilities Manager Dan Rickord interjected that the homes whose water is sampled are not in new additions without old lead service lines. In fact, all or nearly all are hooked to lead lines, so the tests results are not misleading in any way.
    Once the story was distributed around the state, TV stations and others quickly jumped on it. The mayor said he heard one radio station use a stay-tuned teaser that said “Is Decatur the next Flint?”
    “Decatur has been given some undeserved bad publicity,” he added.
    “The survey is not what the focus should be on; the testing is what the focus should be on,” City Attorney Tim Baker said. The survey was so misconstrued by the media that IDEM representatives  apologized to Decatur officials, he added.
    Meyer added that any city resident who wants his/her water tested should contact Rickord at City Hall.
    Do you think recent events have made you more aware of potential water disasters?