A few weeks ago, I went to the DeKalb-Jackson Water Supply District. While there, board member Billy Dalton and Interim Manager Donna Bolton spoke with me about all the chatter that has been going around in the community about the concerns with water issues.
I immediately realized they were not to blame. Simply put– people don’t read.
As the managing editor of a newspaper, I know, better than most, that people simply do not read anymore. It’s frustrating, but it’s a fact of life now, and unfortunately, everyone has to deal with the consequences of it.
If you are not one of those people, and you actually bother to read, and more specifically read the newspaper, you probably read the water board story on today’s front page. I put a lot of time and effort into that story to simply help people understand what is going on with their water. I worked hard on that story because, as a reporter, it is my job to inform the public about the things that impact them. In this case, just like all cases, I was the mouthpiece for some DeKalb-Jackson Water Supply District board members. Their message to the community– they are doing all they can to bring their customers a safe product. I believe that to be the truth.
I have known Billy all of my life, and I went to school with Donna’s children. They have nothing to hide and they shared all the information they could share with me so that I could write the article about the water. I have no reason to doubt them or their efforts.
I sat with and talked to Donna and Billy for more than three hours the night I met with them. Within the first few minutes, I realized that the false accusations about the board and the quality of the water came from people who didn’t bother to read or look deeper into information they had been given or had received via mail.
I was one of the customers to receive a letter from DeKalb-Jackson Water Supply District back in the summer. I’ll tell you what happened– the people who got that letter read the words “contaminant level” and didn’t bother to read past that. From that point, people started posting on social media that their water wasn’t safe to drink. People started pointing fingers at the board members saying they withheld information from their customers. I was even told that an angry customer came to pay their water bill and said, “I’m here to pay for my poisoned water.”
In that letter, in bold font and in all caps, it said, “It is not necessary to boil your water or use an alternative water source.”
If you were one of the customers who received a letter, and if you bothered to read everything in it, you would know that it wasn’t as dramatic as people made it out to be. The point of that letter was to inform customers that levels for total haloacetic acids (HAA5) exceeded the average maximum level. There wasn’t a single indication in the letter that I received that said our water was poisoned. Nowhere in there did the letter tell me that I needed to boil my water or that I needed to stop using it completely. There was nothing confusing about it.
Understand this, if something happened within the water system that was of immediate concern, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management would come crashing down on the whole system. You wouldn’t receive a regular, “no need for panic” letter via snail mail. Customers would be notified immediately, warnings to boil your water would be sent out via television, all media outlets would be notified, and if need be, DeKalb-Jackson Water Supply District would outsource and purchase the water from another plant. None of those things have happened.
So why all of the fuss?
I think it’s because people love drama. Some people can’t be satisfied with receiving information from someone who is authorized to send it. Some people have to make it what they want and turn it into something more exciting or dramatic. From there, they take to social media and place wrongful blame on others. The facts are not always exciting, so jumping to conclusions and pointing fingers is more exciting than accepting the truth. In my line of work, all of those things are detrimental. We seek out and publish the truth so that the public has the proper information to make the best decisions for themselves.
There will always be people who want to interpret things in their own way, and there is nothing we can do about that. Our job is to put the truth out there and hope that the people use it to make the choices they are faced with.
So, the truth about your drinking water? Read my 2,982 word story to find out.
— Kayla Beaty is the managing editor of the Times-Journal. She can be reached at email@example.com.