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Columbia Utilities leader lays out reporting plan for new lead, copper drinking water testing

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City of Columbia staff plan to set up a new process to report water testing results for lead and copper.

A memo from Utilities Director David Sorrell on Monday said the water division's lab supervisor will now report weekly to the department's assistant director on water testing. Sorrell said the lab supervisor will ensure the city is in compliance with state requirements on testing for various problems.

Utility leaders have apologized after the Department of Natural Resources cited the department for not testing the city's drinking water for lead and copper in 2022. The state requires departments to test for the metals 100 times in a six-month period. The city has last performed such tests in 2019, when the requirement allowed for 50 tests in a three-year span.

Lead in drinking water can cause numerous health problems, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Sorrell called the violation unacceptable. The city would go through its disciplinary process with any employee responsible for the lapse.

"These types of violations erode the confidence of customers; create a poor public perception of Utilities and the City and are not acceptable," Sorrell wrote. "The failure of staff to perform duties will be dealt with appropriately through standard personnel procedures and regulations."

Sorrell's memo said a recent reorganization of utilities leadership should reduce the number of miscommunications. One manager will now oversee the water division, rather than separate bosses for different parts of the utility.

"By doing this, we create one person that is over the entire division and can deal with that on a day-to-day basis," Sorrell told ABC 17 News.

Columbia Utilities announced last week that it would begin testing water samples for lead and copper in March. The city said people that want their water personally tested when this starts up could contact lab supervisor Deidra McClendon at 573.874.6242 or

Sorrell said the department would focus testing on homes most likely built with lead pipes or lead soldering. The department would also look at homes that had elevated lead and copper in its 2019 tests, and potentially expand sample gathering throughout the neighborhood.

Fifth Ward councilman Matt Pitzer said he was disappointed in the situation, but glad to see a plan to handle the problem moving forward.

"This is one where we messed up, so it's good to see that we're acknowledging the error and taking steps to improve on that," Pitzer said.

Clean drinking water advocates said the memo still lacked answers. Julie Ryan with COMO Safe Drinking Water Coalition said the department still did not say when it learned of the changes in state testing rules or what locations it tested in 2019 for lead and copper. Ryan said the utility needed to make sure it reported new results transparently in the future.

"This memo also fails to make assurances to citizens and ratepayers that the city will report findings in a timely manner ahead of required reporting to help allay any community concerns," Ryan said.

Article Topic Follows: Columbia

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Lucas Geisler

Lucas Geisler anchors 6 p.m., 9 p.m. and 10 p.m.. shows for ABC 17 News and reports on the investigative stories.


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