In late June, water safety inspectors visited Camp Pendleton for several days and uncovered rats rotting on a reservoir gate, a dried out frog clinging to a reservoir ladder and another rodent carcass floating in treated water. Despite a pair of scathing state and federal investigations indicating chronic problems in the treatment systems at the sprawling military base, Camp Pendleton officials swear that the water consumed by 55,000 Marines and their families is safe. The water safety inspectors also interviewed base workers listed on paper as water treatment supervisors who didn’t know they were supervisors. Last Thursday, the Marines and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) entered into a consent decree designed to force the base to follow federal clean water regulations. Alexis Strauss, EPA’s Acting Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest, stated:
Public water systems must meet all state and federal requirements to provide safe drinking water to their customers. Our priority is to ensure the base achieves compliance promptly, to serve those who live and work at Camp Pendleton.
EPA officials told The San Diego Union-Tribune that workers removed all animal remains from the system, cleaned the reservoirs, began routine testing of the water for Coliform bacteria and chlorine levels and pledged to keep surveying water quality to ensure it was safe to drink after the Marines failed the June inspections. Marine leaders began circulating a notice last Thursday conceding that state and federal investigators identified “vulnerabilities in the condition of our physical plant with specific emphasis on our 34 treated drinking water reservoirs across the base.” The memo insisted that there was no emergency or “immediate health risk” and said residents didn’t need to boil water or take other corrective actions. The state and federal investigators, however, found “significant deficiencies” at both systems that comprise the base’s total treatment program, including a failure to inspect and maintain equipment, which led to foundational cracks and inadequate seals in the reservoirs. According to the reports, problems with animal remains in the reservoirs dated to 2015.
Apparently, some reservoirs on base had not been cleaned since 2009, nearly three times as long as they should have gone without a proper scrubbing. The reservoir with rodents rotting on a mesh grate had not been cleaned within the last three years, a violation of the base’s own standard operating procedures. A planned $3 million system could be installed within the next two years, and John Simpson, the director of Camp Pendleton’s Water Resources Division, promised that his department “will do everything to ensure it does not lose cybersecurity accreditation.” The reports are certainly shocking, but will hopefully bring about the necessary procedures to rectify the issues.