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Water authority to tap into alert system

The Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County is preparing to implement an automated public notification system that would alert residents when there is a threat to their drinking water supplies.

The notification process, which authority Manager Chris Kerr estimates could cost about $100,000 annually, will be required by the state Department of Environmental Protection for all public water suppliers.

Gov. Ed Rendell directed the agency to improve notification procedures after a December 2005 fluoride spill at a York County treatment plant caused elevated levels in the water supply, but a "do not consume" advisory was not released to the media for almost two hours.

The acceptable notification systems include an automatic dialer that would call all customers in an affected region to deliver a recorded message.

Although the system could have some other benefits, Kerr called it an "unfunded mandate" imposed on the authority without requisite funds.

"There's no other way to recover costs but our rate base," he said Thursday.

Authority officials have been working with the Pennsylvania Rural Water Association to learn more about the system, said Joe Hohman, president of Resource Development and Management Inc., the authority's private manager.

Association officials are recommending that authorities choose a New Jersey company, Swiftreach, to set up their systems.

The Hampton Township Municipal Authority in Allegheny County decided Wednesday night to contract with Swiftreach, manager Sam Scarfone said.

Officials are working toward a January implementation for that system, he said.

"We wanted to get on board quickly," said Scarfone, a Pennsylvania Rural Water Association officer. "We believe it's going to catch on."

DEP officials are finalizing the parameters for the notification process.

An agency spokesman did not return a message yesterday requesting comment.

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