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Riviera Beach mayor expects to 'hear something within the next month' on fecal bacteria in water investigation

Mayor announced investigation in February after WPTV revealed city posted public notice about contamination almost 7 months later
Riviera Beach Mayor Ronnie Felder held a news conference on Feb. 5, 2024, to discuss the tests that found fecal material in the city's drinking water last year.
Posted at 12:30 AM, Apr 18, 2024

RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. — Riviera Beach Mayor Ronnie Felder said he expects to "hear something within the next month" about an investigation into the city's water quality in June at a Utilities Special District meeting on Wednesday night.

It’s the first time a potential timeline was given for a report on the details surrounding a positive test for fecal bacteria and E. Coli in the city's well water in June. Originally, city staff told WPTV's Dave Bohman the contaminated water didn't get into the water supply in January.

But the mayor said the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County claims the contaminated water did get into the city's drinking water at a news conference in February. He also announced his intention for an investigation, which he said is handled by the Florida Office of Inspector General.

Felder said the report will explain specific details and use public records like emails to create a thorough report on the June contamination.

Deloris Williams, who came to the announcement at Riviera Beach City Hall with a bucket of yellow-tinted tap water from her house. Feb. 5, 2024
Deloris Williams, who came to the announcement at Riviera Beach City Hall with a bucket of yellow-tinted tap water from her house.

WPTV found records showing that according to the investigation report from the city of Riviera Beach, the investigation started after the Utilities Special District received a warning letter about various violations. Those included failing to issue notices about positive tests for fecal bacteria, collecting water samples within a certain period and failing to submit a bacteriological sample report.

The investigation found the independent laboratory taking tests sent information to two city staff members. One of those employees was out of the office for several weeks on medical leave. The other employee, the department's compliance manager, terminated his employment with the Utilities Special District.

The report said the employee was scheduled to remain in his position until June 16 but only showed up to work on June 14. It recommended having the independent laboratory include more than two staff members when returning water quality data analysis.

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The investigation also found the Utilities Special District compliance manager collected identical samples from the same seven sample point locations to verify the validity of a positive test, which was negative. This led Steven Doyle, who wrote the report, to believe the presence of fecal bacteria and E. coli test was a "false positive" in the report.

"This single incident of a positive event could be considered an anomaly given the history of negative results and the subsequent water quality analysis that followed on the 8th of June, 2023," the report said.

Emails, which WPTV received from a public records request, show the city didn't follow required testing procedures because employees received threats in the past.

Felder said the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County is investigating the city of Riviera Beach's water system. He also revealed Utility Director Michael Low wasn't in town during the contamination.

Shirley Lanier, who is also a council member, said she's frustrated answers haven't been given on the episode almost a year later. She also said Lowe had a contentious meeting with her Wednesday about the issue. City Manager Johnathan Evans declined to comment on the situation until the full report is released.

Douglas Lawson, who is also a council member, said all elected officials are being criticized for the water contamination at the meeting on Thursday night.

Low reports to assistant city manager Deirdre Jacobs. Council member Dr. Glen Spirits asked if Jacobs had engineering experience since she manages the city's infrastructure department. Evans declined to answer the question because it's not an item on the agenda.