State water agency lifts 'Do Not Drink' notice for Santa Paula after break-in at city reservoir

SANTA PAULA, CA-JANUARY 29, 2020: left to right-Celestea Rojas, her cousin George Valencia, cousin Concepcion Valencia, and friend Moises Tomas take in the view of Santa Paula from above. (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)
Nearly half of all residents in the city of Santa Paula cannot use their tap water because of possible contamination at a local reservoir. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

California officials lifted a "Do Not Drink" water notice for Santa Paula a day after a reported break-in at a reservoir sparked contamination concerns for city residents. Officials determined that the water supply was unaffected but had grown concerned when police found a person's clothing and personal items near a reservoir that supplies nearly half of the city's drinking water, officials announced in a news release on Tuesday.

While the notice was in effect, city officials warned the affected residents that they should only use bottled water for drinking, brushing their teeth, making ice and other restrictions were detailed in a news release on Monday. Residents were advised to stick to bottled water for baby formula and other dehydrated foods and drinks. The restriction also applied to people's pets and livestock, according to officials, out of an abundance of caution while the break-in was under investigation.

The city provided safe drinking water from its main treatment plant to those affected by the situation.

“The ability of our staff and [volunteers] to quickly assemble and work together to address this issue, including distributing water to the community, is truly commendable,” Deputy City Manager Jonathan Royas said in a statement. "This outcome would not have been possible without their swift action and dedication to our community, as well as the cooperation of our residents.”

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Although state officials lifted the notice on Tuesday, the reservoir will be kept offline for a cleaning and disinfection, city officials announced. Santa Paula will also install new security measures to increase its surveillance of the 4-million-gallon reservoir that supplies about half of the city with water.

On Monday afternoon, employees at the city reservoir discovered someone broke into the storage site. City employees immediately shut off the main water supply from the water tank to prevent the spread of any potential contamination, officials said.

Santa Paula police officers arrived at the reservoir to investigate reports of a possible trespasser. When officers searched the area they found clothing, a backpack and personal items nearby, according to officials. While there were no clear signs of a visible contaminant in the reservoir, city officials and the California State Water Resources Control Board issued a preliminary "Do Not Drink" notice for about half of all residents in the Ventura County city.

The reservoir is partially buried, according to a spokesperson for the California State Water Resources Control Board. Although someone ripped off a vent screen at the reservoir, further investigation showed that "it doesn't appear to be an intentional contamination event," the spokesperson said.

The city's regular water supply source was not affected during the notice period.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.