San Antonio Water System

Some San Antonio citizens filed a class-action lawsuit against the San
Antonio Water System because of a year-old water contamination incident that
SAWS once said could never happen.

"This lawsuit really came out of the blue at us," SAWS Communications
Director John Boggess said. "We'd addressed all of the citizens' concerns,
requests for information they had toward the end of last year."

The problem happened in March 2002, when the Brackenridge Golf Course
switched its sprinkler system to "recycled water" -- water that's cleaned up
at the city's sewage plants, but still not safe to drink.
SAWS lawsuit

The lawsuit claims it took two to three weeks for SAWS to acknowledge the
problem and correct it.

"There was a valve -- a drinking water valve -- that was not properly cut
and capped," Boggess said. "Consequently, when the recycled water was turned
on, some of that recycled water did get into the drinking water system."

David McQuade Liebowitz is the attorney representing 25 families that have
signed onto the lawsuit.

"It was represented to us that this could never happen -- that these pipes
could never get crossed," he said. "And they even said that they went so far
as to color code the pipes. Well, what was supposed to be impossible -- has

The problem affected the River Road neighborhood just behind the golf

"Folks were getting ill. They were having a lot of digestion, intestinal
problems, diarrhea -- just real difficult things to deal with. And it wasn't
going away," Liebowitz said.

The lawsuit claims it took two to three weeks for SAWS to acknowledge the
problem and correct it.

After holding a series of town hall meetings, SAWS paid for some families'
medical expenses and replaced some contaminated appliances.

Because of those steps, officials at SAWS thought the problem was solved a
year ago. But residents in the River Road neighborhood disagree.

 Larry DeMartino    
"When you put non-potable treated sewage in drinking water, that is not an
issue that easily goes away," River Road homeowner Larry DeMartino said.

DeMartino isn't just a homeowner -- he's also served on the city's water
quality task force.

He's particularly upset that SAWS doesn't consider its recycled water to be
dangerous and didn't issue a boil or do-not-drink alert.

"But SAWS' position is that nothing is wrong with that water, so they don't
have to do that," DeMartino said. "Well, there's a lot of people in public
health and a lot of engineers in the country that disagree with that point
of view."

Meanwhile, the water system stands by its position that everything should be
OK and said there are health department tests to back it up.

 SAWS spokesman John Boggess    
"They never saw any indication that the water had made the community sick,"
Boggess said.

But the community is ready to fight this battle in front of a judge.

"Issues like this are only resolved in a court of law," DeMartino said.
"It's the only place you can get people to come up with straight answers."

SAWS later admitted it did the wrong thing by not issuing a boil alert. It
received an official judgment and had to pay a fine to the state of Texas.

There are over 200 households in the River Road neighborhood, and more of
them could sign onto the lawsuit before it goes to court.