March 14, 1996 in Washington Voices

Epa Asks Christian School To Render Water Test

By The Spokesman-Review

According to the U.S. government, taking a drink from the fountain at Faith Christian School requires an act of faith.

The school on the Newport Highway has its own well, and over the years the water has been tested and found to be as pure as the pope.

“We’ve never had a bad test,” said Faith Christian Principal Anita Utley.

But the government isn’t so sure. Bureaucrats say there’s a chance the water is tainted because the school has fallen behind on its sampling.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency earlier this week published a legal notice warning the public about the school’s failure to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The 8-inch ad appeared last week in The Spokesman-Review and cost the government $269.

“I thought we were in big trouble,” Utley said.

But it turns out the government is just trying to comply with the agency’s testing schedule.

“If we had a problem at our well, I could see it,” Utley said.

As a parable, this is like David vs. Goliath, except Goliath is going to win.

“It’s a pretty heavy-duty warning,” said Grechen Schmidt, a compliance officer with the EPA.

“That’s the way the law is written.”

Schmidt said the EPA bought the ad because Utley is two months late on the school’s semiannual test for copper and lead contamination. The ad says the EPA is going to issue a formal order requiring the tests.

The lead-copper test is just one in a series of samplings required under the federal law for wells that serve more than 25 people. Such wells are classified as public water systems.

Schmidt said she also has been in contact with the school by telephone, and she mailed a registered letter notifying the school of the EPA’s requirements.

There are some 11,000 public water systems in the Pacific Northwest, and many of them are small ones like Faith Christian.

Utley said she thought she was keeping up with the tests, but frankly, there are so many required by the government she needs the wisdom of Solomon to keep track.

“It’s like you need a full-time person just to be in charge of water,” she said.

Faith Christian has used its well safely throughout the 14 years it has been open, she said. Currently there are 50 students and five teachers, including Utley.

The school survives on tuition, which is kept as low as possible, but that means there’s not a lot of cash left for pricey lab tests, Utley said.

The school must conduct monthly tests for bacteria at $11.50. They’re the cheapest tests of the lot.

The twice-yearly test for lead and copper costs $85, another relatively low-cost sampling.

Others are more expensive. The test for inorganic compounds is $290, and the test for synthetic organic compounds is $900.

Fortunately for Utley, those are required only once every three years.

Spending money for water tests might not be a heavy cross for cities and water districts, but for Faith Christian School, it means less money for education.

“We just don’t have the money,” Utley complained.

There’s nothing she’d love more than to end her bureaucratic purgatory by hooking up to Whitworth Water District. But it would cost $50,000 or more to run a water line to school property, she said. So she’s stuck.

Schmidt said people have to remember the government is just trying to protect people from bad water, but she admitted the regulations can be difficult for small schools like Faith Christian.

“We have a hammer there,” Schmidt said, “but we’d rather not use it if we can work it out.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

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