Mayors’ column: Preserving water, preserving life

March 24, 2019

After several years of near record-breaking drought, Utah has had a winter that has been above average in the amount of snowfall, particularly in the areas that affect Utah County.

Water has been a topic on many people’s minds in recent times. Some have wondered about the quantity that will be available. Others have had questions about the quality of water available to our residents. Some of these concerns were brought up in a recent survey of our residents.

Most communities in the county are facing similar concerns and questions from their residents. I have been pleased with the way American Fork has addressed these issues, both currently and in the past, and I would like to share them.

Like most communities in Utah County, American Fork is growing. Some of that growth is in the form of multi-family housing, a higher density than what has been in our more established neighborhoods. While this popular style among the rising generation reduces yards that have to be watered, it increases the number of people who consume water. Many worry as growth continues whether cities can supply enough water to support them, which is a concern that has been considered in our communities for generations back.

Through foresight, American Fork has long had the policy of requiring water rights to be given to the community by the developer in a quantity based on the type of development — whether it is residential or commercial, in proportion to the density — and the anticipated water uses.

It’s one thing to have enough water, but it’s also necessary to get the water to the people. For a number of years, American Fork has been working on a multi-phase project to repair and replace aging water lines, which is no small task as we have more than 150 miles of lines. In addition, we have been working on upgrading those delivery lines, increasing the capacity to prepare for future growth. All this work is essential and unavoidable but comes at a cost.

Recently, Sandy has been in the news for a water contamination incident. Just as their officials have learned from the experience about how to handle such a situation, and even more importantly, how to prevent one, we are analyzing our system and its water quality.

While the details from Sandy’s incident are still under review, it is understood that a power outage caused a fluoride pump to malfunction and undiluted fluoride entered the water, turning the water very acidic. It began to dissolve some of the pipes in the homes, sickening some residents. The city’s reverse 911 phone alert system did not function as they had hoped.

There are numerous differences between Sandy’s system and that of American Fork. We do not add any fluoride to our water. Our system has a different configuration than Sandy’s. Much of our water comes from deep wells. It is regularly tested and been shown to be among the safest and cleanest water supplies.

We have another source of water from springs in American Fork Canyon. This water is also tested frequently. Testing is done in 15 locations, with all data promptly reported to the state. Each year the city sends out a Consumer Confidence Report to every resident that details our water quality. We have many automatic and manual redundancies that will catch any issues.

Many cities have a reverse 911 system in place to communicate to the public in the event of an emergency. Cities want to keep residents informed in an emergency, but it’s up to the residents to ensure that happens.

Currently, American Fork populates our emergency contact database with information from our utility accounts, but the success of our reverse 911 is only as good as the contact information in those accounts, and utility account information is limited. Additionally, if a resident does not have a city utility account, such as those renting, then they will not get an emergency notification unless they sign up.

The best thing for all American Fork residents is to sign up using http://alerts.utahcounty.gov. American Fork is planning to test the notification as part of the State’s Great Shake Out earthquake drill on April 18. Residents in other cities should contact their city for the best way to get notified.

Is there room for improvement? Of course, there is. We continue to upgrade our water transmission and distribution system. We have had leaks through the years and we are working to repair those properly to prevent any possibility of contamination. Our staff undergoes regular training to ensure the quality of their skills. And we are working to enhance emergency communication.

American Fork, like many cities, is working hard to ensure the safety and longevity of water for our community. Most importantly, we are very committed to the safety and well-being of our residents.