Sewage Bacteria Found in Pendleton's Drinking Water

Camp Pendleton, Calif., sign. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
Camp Pendleton, Calif., sign. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

A bacteria common to sewage and feces was found in Camp Pendleton, California's drinking water last month, Marine Corps officials warned on-base families this week in a notice obtained by

Base residents received a notice May 29 from the installation's housing office that coliform bacteria had been found in the water supply during a routine test in April. The notice, dated May 25, says the drinking water is safe and that residents "do not need to boil your water or take other corrective actions."

"Although this is not an emergency, as consumers, you have a right to know what you should do, what happened and what we did to correct this situation," says the notice from Pendleton's Water Resources Division and Environmental Security Department.

Officials took 49 water samples in April as part of routine testing, the notice states. Of those,

"6.1 percent showed the presence of total coliform bacteria. The standard is that no more than 5 percent of the total number of samples collected per month [be contaminated]," it says.

Pendleton officials think the positive result may have been caused by bad testing, said Capt. Luke Weaver, a Pendleton spokesman.

"Our assessment found that the coliform bacteria detections may have been due to aging sample point infrastructure and improper disinfection of the infrastructure prior to sampling (as opposed to actual coliform bacteria contamination within the water distribution system)," he said in an email to "We believe this because all follow-up sampling was negative for coliforms and other bacteria."

Because coliform bacteria can be a sign of bigger problems, such as the presence of E. coli, follow-up tests were conducted, the notice states, adding that those tests were all negative for the bacteria.

Still, Pendleton officials have been working with California's Water Resources Control Board's Division of Drinking Water to put in place "corrective actions," like updating how the base takes samples and disinfects its sample points.

"Marine Corps Installations West-Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton is committed to providing all of its water consumers with safe and compliant drinking water," Weaver said in the statement. "Our command reports all of its findings to the California State Water Resources Control Board, Division of Drinking Water."

Pendleton's water is tested for coliform once a week, state officials said. After the April test, base officials did a "physical assessment" of the system's sources, storage tanks and distribution system.

"The assessment found that the defects on sampling taps may have been the root cause," said Wei Chang, acting district engineer for the water board's Santa Ana district, which includes Camp Pendleton. "The sampling taps will be replaced to eliminate the possibility of sample contamination."

The water boards issued Pendleton a citation as a result of the failed test, evaluated officials' assessment of the causes and required them to correct the problem, Chang said.

Pendleton's water supply came under close public scrutiny last year when an investigation obtained from the Environmental Protection Agency by a San Diego News Tribune reporter showed dead rodents floating in treated water, among other issues.

Further documents showed years of problems documented by base contractors, including a lack of inspections and a cracked and aging system. That investigation also found that the base's drinking water system logged four separate EPA groundwater violations, four disinfectant rules violations, and six coliform bacteria contamination violations between 2014 and 2017.

Pendleton's woes come amidst even greater drinking water concerns on military bases nationwide. At least 126 military bases are near or house water that contains perfluorinated compounds at potentially harmful levels, according to a report sent by the Pentagon to Congress in March.

Those chemicals have been linked to both developmental delays for infants and unborn babies and a variety of cancers.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at

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