Problems at Privately Run Treatment Plant Left Hugo Residents With Unsafe Water

  • Joe Wertz

About 7,000 residents in Hugo lived for months with unsafe drinking water because a private company improperly disinfected municipal water supplies and misreported data to local and state officials.

Severn Trent Services, which took over the city’s water treatment in 2007, “didn’t use enough chlorine for more than 300 days over the course of two years,” Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality findings show, The Journal Record‘s Sarah Terry-Cobo reports:

Hugo residents were potentially exposed to deadly viruses and bacteria because the company didn’t use the most basic water disinfecting chemical, according to agency findings.

Lab workers with the state agency discovered the problem in December, Terry-Cobo reports:

In February, DEQ inspectors found chlorine equipment that was broken and unsafe for workers, and discovered a 4-inch-diameter tree growing in a lagoon that should have been debris-free. Hugo Interim City Manager David Rawls said the plant began to deteriorate in 2011.

The United Kingdom-based corporation could face millions in fines for a series of violations that have occurred since January 2013, and company officials and former employees could face criminal charges for knowingly letting Hugo residents drink unsafe water.

The city’s water plant has a history of record-keeping problems, which were worsened by “torrential flooding” in May 2015, Terry-Cobo reports:

The area received 22 inches of rain during the month, nearly overtopping the dam at nearby Hugo Lake. Pressure from the high water caused lake water to flow into the raw intake pipes and forced several feet of water into the city’s pumping station at the reservoir. The cloudiness in lake water tripled.

Hugo’s water now meets state and federal standards, but as Terry-Cobo reports, residents are still worried about “yellowish-brown” tap-water:

The discoloration is a remnant of the summer floods. The Army Corps of Engineers is slowly releasing water from swollen Hugo Lake to prevent more flooding downstream. But as of Monday, it was still 20 feet above normal. Naturally occurring iron and manganese have built up because the reservoir hasn’t been flushed, creating dingy-colored water.