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Ex-Ridgewood Water Engineer Charged with Hiding Contamination Levels

William Mowell, the assistant executive director of East Orange's water utility, was indicted along with the utility's executive director on Wednesday. Ridgewood Water contends Mowell could not have manipulated the Ridgewood Water supply durin

A former Ridgewood Water engineer accused of manipulating the water supply in East Orange did not have the access to carry out the alleged deeds in Ridgewood, Ridgewood Water head Frank Moritz says.

The assistant executive director of the East Orange Water Commission (EOWC), William Mowell, 51, of Wyckoff, was indicted Wednesday for allegedly conspiring with the utility's director to manipulate monthly water test results that found higher levels of contaminants in drinking water. The allegations stem from Nov. 2010 to April 2011.

Mowell worked as the chief engineer at Ridgewood Water until he was laid off in July of 2010, according to employment records.

Ridgewood Water serves Wyckoff, Midland Park, Glen Rock and Ridgewood.

He could not have manipulated the water supply in Ridgewood for scheduled monthly tests when he worked in Ridgewood, according to Ridgewood Water's director.

"He was not the keeper of the castle where our tests were resolved," Moritz said. "We have a chief operator, Steve Florence, who takes care of that for us. We don't believe in doing that [allegedly manipulating the water supply and falsifying test results]."

Mowell and EOWC executive director Harry Mansmann are accused of reporting lower levels of the contaminant tetrachlorethene (PERC), an industrial solvent used for dry cleaning. It is classified as a probable carcinogen.

"Working with the DEP, our investigators thoroughly chronicled the actions of these two officials who allegedly manipulated the water supply prior to sampling on multiple occasions, cherry picked the test results they reported to the DEP on another occasion, and pumped water from their most contaminated well into the Passaic River without a permit for nearly a month,” said Division of Criminal Justice Director Stephen J. Taylor. "Their alleged conduct is shocking."

Moritz also condemned the alleged tampering.

"Maybe they thought they had good reasons, but that's frightfully silly," he said Wednesday. "It's not the kind of thing that should happen."

They've been charged with conspiracy, multiple counts of official misconduct, pattern of official misconduct, unlawful release of a toxic pollutant, multiple counts of violating the New Jersey Safe Drinking Water Act, violating the New Jersey Water Pollution Control Act, and tampering with public records or information.

If convicted, Mowell and Mansmann could face more than a decade of prison time while paying thousands in fines.

Elizabeth Cox February 13, 2013 at 10:24 PM
this makes me very angry- i swear that the water quality in this town has gone down so much. Growing up here the water was perfect. now i use a purifier on my tap and wont let the kids brush there teeth out of any other faucet. the water tastes disgusting- why was he laid off from RWD?
Boyd A. Loving February 13, 2013 at 10:51 PM
He was the Chief Engineer for Ridgewood Water, but could not have manipulated our water supply in any manner? Are you sure Frank?
kengineer February 13, 2013 at 10:54 PM
I am completely skeptical of the RW Water Service anyway. I'm not sure a utility as basic and important as water should be left under the control of an elected Village council (even if there is DEP oversight). Although this malfeasance occurred in another jurisdiction it is unsettling and I cannot rely on the attestations of those who are left to be this fellow's apologists.
jp1 February 14, 2013 at 12:18 AM
I have been drinking this water for fifty years with no complaints . Hackensack water taste terrible , lived there for a few years and always used a filter.
News Man February 14, 2013 at 01:25 PM
Mr. Loving, perhaps, your direct question to Mr. Moritz is more easily answered by going to his office. His door is open all the time and welcomes visitors. Your direct question, (on a Patch story here) is not the appropriate place for a personal/personnel question. You could, as you usually do, ask your question at a Village Council meeting of the Council and/or the Village Mgr. Thanks.
maureen February 14, 2013 at 03:02 PM
The water report that comes out every year always indicated levels of dry-cleaning run-off solvent . I never used the water for cooking/drinking and for the past 15 years have received bottled water. Of course these guys have been shutting off contaminated wells during testing so the levels would just squeak by standards. It would be naive to think otherwise.
Mikka H February 14, 2013 at 03:08 PM
Safest town in america...if someone is going to rob you on the street. but there gonna get you one way or the other and now their poisioning the water supply....WELCOME TO RIDGEWOOD NJ.............
Peter February 14, 2013 at 06:18 PM
Hey James, you may need to clarify your headline to read that this pertains to the East Orange water system. It seems that some of the commenters are failing to read the entire article and have the impression that this occurred in the Ridgewoood system.
James Kleimann February 14, 2013 at 06:50 PM
I disagree, Peter. The headline is accurate – the former engineer was charged with hiding contaminants. The subhead says this allegedly occurred at his current job, in East Orange; and also says Ridgewood Water doesn't believe it happened in Ridgewood. Then the lead says pretty much the same thing. There's nothing unclear in the writing. If people choose to read eight words in total and say, "OK, I'm done here," sorry. You can lead a horse to water...
James Kleimann February 14, 2013 at 06:51 PM
On a related note, you may not want to lead a horse to water on the banks of the Passaic River in Essex County. (You'll have to read the report for context on that one.)
longtimer66 February 14, 2013 at 07:25 PM
Good one.
longtimer66 February 14, 2013 at 07:28 PM
It's time to privatize Rwd Water or set up a public-private partnership. The other towns it serves could own a stake if they want to... or just be customers depending on town by town prefs.. Owning would mean putting up $ though for their stakes.. It needs to be 100% ratepayer financed, not co-mingled the way it is with so much else. A Council from one town only, which has little to no expertise in running a utility should not be in complete charge of it. It's a valuable asset that if spun off into a new entity could benefit taxpayers. If things keep going as they have, not sure it will be so valuable. As others have noted, there have been many problems with water in recent years. And infrastructure, meters, SCADA, etc etc - more problems. All the controversy from other towns also suggests a sep entity could work better for all. I know many people hate United Water, but they are not the only player in this stuff- others like Aqua America do this too. Links below to United Water info on pub-private partnerships as an example. http://www.unitedwater.com/newjersey/uwppp.aspx http://www.unitedwater.com/newjersey/municipal-partnerships.aspx Aqua America link: https://www.aquaamerica.com/business-development/existing-systems-acquisitions.aspx No, I don't work for either .. and current water rate in HHK is $5.25 per M gallons by way of comparison. It's time to start this conversation and at least explore it. Too much is too murky with Rwd Water.
Phil Brooks February 14, 2013 at 09:05 PM
Mikka, Hey troll, who's "there" or "their?" Did you mean "they're," as in "they are?" In any case, who's the ubiquitous "they?" Do "they" have a name? And why do you continually come across as an ignoramus?
Mikka H February 15, 2013 at 01:54 PM
Hi phil, it's their because that's where I left it and there won't be anymore responses TOOO you's because they it is.....so there .......and I won't call you any names because I'm TOOO ignorant to come up with anything......
honest abe February 15, 2013 at 04:30 PM
What is so funny in all of this is that everyone knows the best solution.  See, the man in this article is a very stubborn person.  Falsifying the test results in East Orange (not Ridgewood) was an act of stubbornness of believeing he knew best.  This is a very good reason why he was among the people laid off in 2010.  He had no authority to do the same in Ridgewood.  To the person that believes Hohokus pays 5.25 per million gallons doesn't seem to have his facts straight.  It is 5.25 per 1000 gallons.  If it were per million the water department would fall in one day.  To put it in perspective an average gallon of bottled water is $1.25, that is $1250 per 1000 gallons.  Now bottle water is governed by the food and drug administration which has much lighter rules on water quality.  Ridgewood's water is governed by the DEP, much tighter rules.  The great bottled water that everyone loves could have higher levels of contaminants then what Mr Mowell was falsifying according to the FDA rules.
honest abe February 15, 2013 at 04:31 PM
And by the way not only is Ridgewood's water only $4.55 per 1000 gallons, delivery is free.  All you have to do is turn on your faucet.  There are still many people at Ridgewood that are committed to serving all residents with the best service possible through these tough economic times and not one of them deserves to be looked at in the same manner as a man that did these acts elsewhere.  Maybe if you had some faith in your governing body you could come to the conclusion that he did this in East Orange and not Ridgewood for a reason.  RIDGEWOOD WATER is a non profit government owned service.  Any left over money from revenue goes back to the town and not into one persons big fat pocket. They have no reason to trick fool or take advantage of anyone.  If the cost of water goes up it is only because it costs more in energy to pull the very clean clear fresh water from up to 500ft below your feet at thousands of gallons a minute.  Just so you know a gallon of water is  8.34lbs.  Now that takes some energy to push doesn't it.  Sometimes I wish the good people of Ridgewood would just understand that.  Sorry for the rant.
longtimer66 February 15, 2013 at 11:31 PM
"per M gallons" means per thousand gallons. That's common notation, used in all sorts of things, from wire nuts and water to finance. C =hundred M=thousand and MM=million. Who doesn't have facts straight ? As I said above, I feel best solution is to set up a sep entity or a public private partnership for the water utility, so that it is 100% ratepayer financed. Right now, many things seem to be co-mingled . Payroll for Ridgewood Water is in the muni payroll. However, if you look at the other 2 Rwd entities, BOE and the Library, they are completely separate payrolls. Water is not.. But Ridgewood Water serves other towns. So, it's not just the payroll but also benefits, pensions etc too. databases here: http://www.nj.com/news/bythenumbers/ or: http://php.app.com/NJpublicemployees12/search.php The union contract is w/Rwd too, not other towns (see Vlg site) Yes, Rwd current rate is less than HHK's , which is why I quoted the HHK number. They- as well as United Water and others- are also governed by DEP regs. United serves some other nearby towns- rates are more like HHK's. Lastly, you can find many articles on Patch and other places about the class action lawsuit re Ridgewood Water by other towns against the Village. Whether that succeeds or not, taxpayers of Rwd must still pay to defend the Village on all that -- another reason all involved may be better served by spinning off Rwd Water so it's 100% ratepayer supported.
Phil Brooks February 16, 2013 at 03:50 AM
Mikka, Do you know how to use the "reply" button? Answer: Obviously not. And, what language was that you wrote in? If it's English, it's a form I've never seen before. If I were you, I wouldn't be flashing my ignorance around like a badge of honor.
honest abe February 16, 2013 at 01:48 PM
As far as I know not a penny of tax payers money goes to Ridgewood Water payroll. As well as all other expenses. The revenue from water sold goes to keeping the utility running. Which is also why when there was more discussions on layoffs this year to keep taxes reasonable they stated that Ridgewood Water would not be among the layoffs because laying off a Ridgewood Water employee doesn't affect the taxes. But that is as far as I know it. When a Ridgewood Water employee is asked to help with leaf clean up or snow clean up he gets paid through a different payroll then if he were to be working on Ridgewood Water time. I didn't mean to sound off putting with the million thosands comment. Just have not seen M used to indicate thousands since ancient times for Milli. Haha. Anyway have a good day all.
longtimer66 February 16, 2013 at 05:51 PM
If what you say is true, why is the payroll co-mingled? Why also are union contracts which include Rwd Water? See Vill website, blue collar p5, white collar p21, supervisor p4. There are only 3 payrolls for Rwd in the database links I noted above, Village, BOE, and Library. So how do they separate out (as you say) when a Rwd Water employee is doing something else-- if there is no other payroll, union contract, work rules and so on? Seems pretty murky. Water is not sep, but Library is-- why? Also if what you say is so, how did the other towns find causes of action to bring their class action lawsuit? Link to one article on that here: http://www.northjersey.com/news/151892895_Three_towns_sue_Ridgewood_over_consecutive_water_rate_hikes.html Again, it's more transparent and fair to all ratepayers involved if you make the water utility a sep entity, I'd say. And if you look at the United Water and Aqua America links I posted in orig comment, you'll see many towns have done this to their advantage. Many arrangements are possible - who owns infrastructure, operations, lots of other things. It can work like shared services or work with a mgmt and/or operating partner such as United or Aqua. Village's credit is also used to finance stuff for Water- why should we shoulder that when it serves other towns? Make it supported only by ratepayers and its own entity. Prob is "as far as I know" (you, me, anyone). Transparency is key.

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