Oklahoma

Environment, Education, Energy: Policy to People

Company Accused of Botching City Water Fights ‘Unprecedented’ Fine, Says Public Was Safe

Hugo Lake Dam following recording-breaking rainfall in May 2015.

usacetulsa / Flickr

Hugo Lake Dam following recording-breaking rainfall in May 2015.

The company that runs Hugo’s water treatment plant is contesting the $3.17 million fine the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality levied against it for — as the Journal Record‘s Sarah Terry-Cobo reported in August — not using “enough chlorine for more than 300 days over the course of two years.”

The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality says UK-based Severn Trent Services badly mishandled its responsibility to deliver clean water to the city. In December 2014, the agency found a host of violations at the plant, according to The Oklahoman’s Randy Ellis:

The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality leveled a proposed $3.17 million fine against Severn Trent on Aug. 21, citing a lengthy list of regulatory violations that included inadequate record-keeping, substandard sampling practices and a lack of chlorine at times in water that had been treated for consumption.

Hugo water users have complained of murky tap water, and one local resident, Jessica Childers-Teague, created a national furor in July by posting a photo of her son on Facebook that showed a little boy sitting in a bathtub full of brown, dirty-looking water.

The company doesn’t deny there were problems at the plant, but claims the complaints have been exaggerated and says the fine it’s being asked to pay is unprecedentedly steep, Ellis reports. Severn Trent is requesting a hearing over the matter:

“The proposed fine of $3.17 million is more than three times the largest penalty ever assessed for drinking water violations by any agency in the entire 40-year enforcement history of the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act,” the company complained.

Company officials said they conducted a vigorous investigation once they learned of problems, self-reported employee misconduct involving daily log entries and fired former plant manager Matt Lail after discovering he had “misreported” chlorine data.

In its hearing request, Severn Trent contends that, despite mistakes by its employees, Hugo’s water was never unsafe for drinking. The DEQ hasn’t commented on the company’s hearing request.


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