Sunnyside survey to be used to assure safe drinking water

I am aware that there are significant penalties for submitting false information, including the possibility of fine and imprisonment for knowing violations.

A pretty harsh thought-one might expect to find on an IRS tax form, perhaps.

But those words appeared on the bottom of a survey that accompanied the utility bills recently mailed out to Sunnyside residents.

"The wording is unfortunate," City Manager Bob Stockwell said yesterday. In hindsight, he added, the phrase about possible fines or imprisonment for submitting false information on the survey should have been deleted.

The Gestapo-like threat, said Pam Sandifer when contacted at the city building department Thursday afternoon, hasn't been taken kindly by some local residents.

"That it's harsh language, yes, that's what we've been hearing," she said.

Stockwell explained that the words in question were taken directly from a state-issued survey.

"We didn't edit it," he said.

Local residents have also been given the message from city hall that filling out the survey and returning it is a mandatory requirement. When asked point blank, Sandifer said it was her understanding, from working with Public Works Director Jim Bridges, that completing the survey was indeed mandatory.

"We sent the survey out with the utility bills last Thursday (April 29)," said Sandifer.

"The next billing will include either a thank-you for sending the survey in or a reminder to send it in.

"With the June billing only those who haven't responded will be sent another survey," Sandifer said.

As it turns out, Bridges may have over-stepped the boundaries of what the city can and can not require of its citizens. In a contact made with Stockwell late yesterday afternoon, the city manager admitted there is no legal requirement of local citizens to complete the survey and return it to the city.

"No, it's not mandatory," said Stockwell. "But it's information we need," he added, explaining that without the survey results city employees will have to go door-to-door to gain the information needed to assure safe drinking water for all.

The survey's intended use is to help determine if the drinking water of all local residents is safe to consume.

Under state issued Department of Health regulations, all municipalities that deliver potable water must have a program in place for identifying and eliminating potential links between a water system and any other liquid or gas. These links, whether actual or of a potential nature, are referred to as cross connections. A drop in the city's water pressure, which can be caused by a break in a line or the use of a fire hydrant, can cause a flow reversal, which could siphon or pull back unwanted liquids and gasses from homes and businesses into the city water system.

In some cities, there have been incidents where soapy water from a car wash contaminated the potable water, and where pesticides were siphoned back into homes because a garden hose was placed in a mixing barrel.

The goal of the Sunnyside city staff is to assure all residents have safe drinking water. Stockwell said the surveys mailed out last week will help to eliminate any possible cross connections.

If problems are found in homes and businesses, Stockwell said backflow devices will be installed. "But this won't be an expense to them individually," he said, noting that the cross connection program is being funded by the city, at the direction of the city council.

Stockwell added that it is state mandated for the city to find out how many cross connections must be dealt with, "...and how many to plan for.

"They (backflow devices) will be phased in over a five-year period," he said.


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