Updated at 4:25 pm Wednesday, October 8, 2013
State Road Restaurant and the Chilmark Tavern are cleared to reopen by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). On October 3, state water regulators ordered the restaurants to close after routine water testing revealed bacteria that can cause illness in the water supply. Subsequent well treatment and more testing showed the water supplies for both restaurants free of all bacterial contamination on October 8.
“The water orders for both restaurants have been lifted,” DEP spokesman Ed Colletta said. “Samples that were taken on Sunday and Monday were all clean of any bacteria.”
Owners of the two restaurants, which both rely on well water, believe the tests are almost certainly the result of human error.
“The quality of our water was our first concern and we took every action necessary to comply with our emergency response plans,” State Road Restaurant owners Mary and Kenworth Jackson and Jenna Petersiel of The Chilmark Tavern said in a letter to the editor sent to The Times late Wednesday afternoon. “We were, however, puzzled by the identical failed tests on two private wells five miles apart. We were informed by several professionals that failed tests are common, even when the water is fine and that our original failed results were most likely caused by an error in the testing process, somewhere between sample collection and the lab.”
The Chilmark Tavern, a seasonal restaurant, has closed for the year. State Road plans to reopen on Thursday, October 10.
DEP, which oversees testing of public water supplies, reported that water samples taken on September 30 at State Road Restaurant in West Tisbury and the Chilmark Tavern in Chilmark showed evidence of bacterial contamination. Follow-up samples taken on October 2, to confirm the routine testing, also showed contamination.
The original routine testing at both restaurants showed the presence of total coliform bacteria and E. coli bacteria, according to a notice the restaurants are required to issue to the public.
“On 10/2/13, we collected four repeat samples from the distribution system and one sample from the source as required,” the warning issued by the State Road ownership stated. “On 10/3/13 we were notified that one of those repeat samples showed the presence of coliform bacteria and E. coli bacteria, and four of those samples are still pending final results from the lab.”
The warning issued by the Chilmark Tavern stated that repeat testing did not show E. Coli contamination, but did show the presence of coliform bacteria.
“Coliforms are bacteria which are naturally present in the environment and are used as an indicator that other, potentially harmful, bacteria may be present,” the warnings read in part. “Coliforms were found in more samples than allowed, and this was a warning of potential problems.”
DEP notified the local boards of health in West Tisbury and Chilmark on October 3. The boards are not involved in testing, but they are responsible for making sure the restaurants close as required by the state regulators and they issue the required warnings.
Mr. Coletta said bacteria testing is typically done once a week by a local certified technician who is responsible for operating the water system. He also said that the source of contamination is unknown.
“They have to test and report back to us if there are any issues with water quality,” Mr. Coletta said. “On a small system, it’s difficult to determine. These are self-contained systems that are really tight. The water is pumped from deep in the ground up a tight pipe into the facility, and into a small holding tank. More than likely it happened at the water source, but that’s just a guestimation.”
This story was updated to include further comments from the owners of the two restaurants.