Rusty city water an issue for some residents

4/6/2013

By SCOTT AUST

By SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

Dena Purdy played a little show and tell with the Garden City Commission earlier this week, hoping to demonstrate the quality of water — or lack thereof — in her neighborhood.

"I'm a firm believer that a picture is worth a thousand words," Purdy said while showing off a glass jar filled with rust-tinged tap water from her Lyle Street home in south-central Garden City.

"This is what came out of my faucet. I choose not to drink that because I don't think it's acceptable," Purdy said. "I buy water to drink, but I do still have to bathe in that water. I do still have to do dishes in that water. I do still have to do laundry in that water."

As if the water jar weren't enough, Purdy also showed the difference between new, white towels and what those same type of towels look like after about six months of laundering. Instead of white, the towels that have been washed in the rusty water have taken on a grayish, off-white hue.

"I wash them every time we use them with two cups of Clorox per load and this is what they look like. I would ask that you please do what you can to correct our water problems. It's not just me, it's everyone in our neighborhood," she said.

Mayor David Crase said Purdy's water was actually cleaner than the water in his home.

"Mine's about twice that color. We've had the same problem. I've had the same problems since they put the (reverse osmosis) plant in. It's because of the old iron pipes," he said.

Crase said he has been dealing with the problem for at least eight years. It gets better in the summer because the pipes tend to get flushed out more as people use more water.

Mike Muirhead, public utilities director, agrees that parts of the city are having problems with water color. Providing his own show and tell, Muirhead has in his office a sample of the type of cast iron water main that clearly shows the rust built up inside the pipe after many years of use.

"The rust starts collecting, and it turns your water brown over time. We're well aware of the situation down on Lyle Street," he said.

Muirhead said there is about a 15-block area, including Lyle Street, that has issues with water quality due to cast iron pipes. And just Friday, a resident in another area, this one near Conkling Street, called his office about water quality.

"We have identified several areas," he said. "We understand. We, too, are working as hard as we can to come up with some sort of a solution for this problem."

Muirhead said his department is working on a water main replacement program in the Lyle Street area. A recommendation will be made to the city council in the future, but right now the idea would be to replace cast iron mains with PVC pipe in about a three-block area, and reroute some service lines that are currently behind some homes to the street.

The city also has hired an engineering firm to help prepare a water master plan, Muirhead said. Part of the planning will be to identify more areas in the city that are experiencing issues like Lyle Street so they can be addressed over a period of time.

Muirhead said the city also has contacted a contractor who specializes in water and sewer main cleaning who may be able to tell the city if some mains can be cleaned out or if it's worth the expense.

Some pipes can be cleaned if the structural integrity of the pipe hasn't been compromised, and the pipe could be used for many more years. Muirhead said some cast iron mains are four-inch pipes, which were fine decades ago but don't meet today's demand. Larger cast iron pipes may be cleanable.

"Once you clean them, you spray an epoxy coating inside, which will extend the life of those water mains for another 30 years," he said. "Most of this area was probably installed in the 1940s or 1950s."

Muirhead said a lot of communities still use cast iron pipe for water mains, depending on their soil conditions.

"If the soil isn't destructive to the pipe, a lot of places still use it and they swear by it. The key is to keep it clean," he said.

Cleaning the water mains involves a process called "pigging," Muirhead said. The process starts with a small drum run through the pipe that knocks off the rust from the sides. A progressively bigger drum, or "pig," is run through the pipe several times to remove the buildup.

Muirhead said he hopes to have some options for the city commission to consider in the next four to six weeks. The estimated cost for just the initial three blocks is in the range of $350,000 to $500,000, and could take six to eight months to complete, factoring in the bid letting process and performing the work.

"It's not something we can just run right out and do," Muirhead said.

While the water may not be attractive, it is safe.

"It's not going to harm you. It will make your laundry not look as clean, and that high iron turns the water brown, but it's certainly OK to drink," he said.

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