WORTHINGTON — In response to concerns aired by Worthington residents at a Nov. 9 forum hosted by Citizens League, the Worthington Water and Light Commission discussed at its Monday meeting the questions that were raised about local water quality.

"We should be able to answer these questions if somebody in the community comes to us," said commission chair Gary Hoffmann.

Two items were of primary concern to the commission. First, the assertion raised at the community gathering that sewer and storm water combine intermittently in the Worthington water system was a red flag to commission members.

Hoffmann explained that there are no places where the sanitary sewer is intentionally crossed with storm drains. However, inflow and infiltration occasionally occur due to cracked pipes and sump pump usage.

"Typically what that is, is clear (storm) water being introduced into the sanitary (sewer), not the other way around," said WPU general manager Scott Hain. He added that since storm water lines are built higher up than sewers, gravity makes it very unlikely that sewage could pollute storm water.

In the event of inflow and infiltration, occasionally the excess must be pumped out to relieve the pressure, Hoffmann said.

"At that point, the alternative is people's basements," he noted.

"We work hard to identify, and we work hard to correct" inflow and infiltration, Hain said. He explained that WPU does smoke testing in one-third of community water lines each year, and when detected, inflow and infiltration are prioritized repairs.

"Maybe there are some misperceptions out there," said commissioner Chad Nixon, who told the commission he was disappointed that no city staff or elected officials were present at the Citizens League forum.

Hain explained that the statewide effort by the Minnesota Department of Health assigned Citizens League to handle conversations with average community members, while Environmental Initiative talked with city staff and water experts.

He read from the Citizens League website: "Environmental Initiative is convening conversations with environmental experts and activists, water experts, land use decision makers, and policy makers, while Citizens League seeks to engage community members who may be new to conversations about drinking water.

"If you identify as an environmental expert or activist, water expert, land use decision maker, or policy maker, it will be more appropriate for you to participate in the meetings with Environmental Initiative."

Hain said he already attended a meeting with Environmental Initiative in July. The Nov. 9 meeting was Citizen League's part in engaging with community members, and the objective was simply to gather data about public perception.

The other statement made at the Nov. 9 meeting that alarmed commissioners was that the state only requires local water testing once each year.

"In 2019, we will run analysis on 2,986 water samples covering 59 different parameters," Hain clarified. Water is tested seven times each day, with four different parameters analyzed each time.

"Our drinking water does meet all primary drinking water standards," he said.

"I did not know there were concerns about Worthington's drinking water," commissioner Deb Weg said. However, she added, "their (community members') concerns about Lake Okabena are shared by everyone."

Commissioner Kathy Hayenga suggested that perhaps some members of the public confuse lake water quality for drinking water quality, leading to undue concern about drinking water.

The commission supported citizens' Nov. 9 call for better education about local water quality.

"I don't know what role we play in that," Hain said, adding that current WPU efforts are limited to mailing an annual consumer confidence report, which is printed only in English, with a request in a few different languages for non-English speakers to have the document translated on their own.

Hain asked the commission to consider ways WPU can better engage with the public about these concerns.