Hello. My name is David Schmitt, Ph.D. I am a biologist, whistleblower and former integrity worker of the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, The Water Quality Division. For most of my nearly nine years of service to the People of the State of Oklahoma, I was the Total Coliform Rule Coordinator, applying state and federal regulations under the Congressionally mandated Safe Drinking Water Act, administered through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and adopted by the Legislature of the State of Oklahoma. The TCR coordinator, for short, monitors the laboratory reports from the roughly sixteen laboratories that are certified for the analysis of drinking-water. These analyses were collected from roughly 1,600 public water-supply systems in Oklahoma. These include the cities down to mobile-home parks and restaurants. I issued warning letters for improper or failed sampling as well as for exceeding the maximum contaminant level for coliform bacteria, which is set at the level of one colony-forming organism per hundred milliliters.
Coliform bacteria are a general category of many different species of bacteria that are used in the analysis of drinking water as an indicator organism, the canary-in-a-mineshaft principle, one might say. The appearance of coliform bacteria in samples of drinking water are alerting to the possibility that the water distribution system is compromised. By “compromised,” is meant that an opening has appeared in the pipes or plumbing. Good sampling techniques are taught to trained water system operators and personnel for the purpose of reducing the possibility of contamination of the sample occurring at the outlet. Cracks in pipes, loose fittings contaminated water-storage structures or failures of filtration and disinfection treatment at the plant are some of the problems for which the coliform bacteria serve as an indicator. Coliform bacteria are generally harmless to humans, are very common in the environment, and no less so in soils–where leaks into pipes frequently occur, especially when the water pressure becomes low.
If a water sample in a drinking-water laboratory proves to be positive for coliform bacteria (broth turns yellow/yellow-cloudy after 24 hours at 44-degrees Celsius), that is these bacteria are present, the sample is immediately evaluated for the presence of one particular species of coliform bacteria called Escherichia coli, or E. coli (broth shines blue under UV light (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. The appearances of three samples of drinking water to which nutrient broth and color indicators have been added after 24 hours of incubation at 44º Celsius. In the bottle on the far left is the typical result of a sample that had no detectable growth of coliform bacteria, that is it was TC (-), or “total-coliform negative.” This is contrasted with the bottle in the middle that does show the tell-tale evidence of positive growth of coliform bacteria, of which there are hundreds of types–we know this because the sample has turned clear yellow or cloudy yellow. It is TC (+) for any or many of these bacteria, except for at least one that we know of: Escherichia coli. In bottle on the right we see a sample that is necessarily TC (+), because it is yellow under white light (see in the rear of the bottle) and because when exposed to UV light, as the bottles in this scene are, it shines blue–which can be clearly seen.
My performance reviews for nearly nine-years were very good. Never has my work performance or competence been criticized. I introduced a number of process innovations, such as, a Gateway Package for new systems; a very popular TCR Workshop that we took on the road (see Figure 2); a crafted and edited text for combining six TCR violation types into a document that, with the collaboration of a coder, automatically produced Notices of Violation (a type of legal document) from machine-based reviews of laboratory records; and a scientific and good-practice system of managing agency responses to water emergencies among sundry other procedures.
Figure 2. David Schmitt presenting a Total Coliform Rule Workshop at the High Plains Technology Center in Woodward, Oklahoma for a group of water-system operators, administrators and regulators.