Saline's Water Discoloration: Annoying Aesthetic Issue or Something More Serious?

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Saline resident Fred Gallagher posted picture of brownish tap water in the Saline Posts Facebook group.

Complaints about rusty or discolored water are nothing new in the City of Saline. In the Saline Posts Facebook group, residents post pictures or questions about brownish water almost as much as they complain about drivers who can't properly navigate roundabouts.

Typically, the complaints are met with advice to run the water for a couple of minutes. Often, that advice does the trick.  But the issue is a source of frustration for some residents, including Heather Maynard.

"We have this issue monthly. We call the city, they flush the lines, two months later it's yellow again. It looks like our toilets are full of urine, it ruins clothes and fabrics, it's just disgusting," Maynard wrote in the Facebook group.  "It's been going on for the past eight years we've owned this home. I don't care to give my child this water to drink, even after filtering it through our Britta pitchers."

Issue Addressed By City Council

The issue was addressed at Monday's Saline City Council meeting. Steve Wyzgoski, superintendent of the city's water and wastewater systems, said the hot dry summer has caused a lot of water usage in the city this year. 

"Due to the high demand, the sediments in the pipes get stirred up," Wyzgoski said.

Wyzgoski said workers have been cleaning filters at the drinking water plant in recent weeks and that he thinks it's made a difference. 

Wyzgoski said the discoloring is an aesthetic problem.

"We test the water daily leaving the plant. It's crystal clear. But it has been unsightly," Wyzgoski said.

He suggested that next summer, if the city experiences high usage, the city could enact a watering ban.

More System Flushings Needed?

Mayor Brian Marl said he thought the problem might be resolved if the DPW added one or two hydrant flushings per season.

"Is there any merit to that claim. If so, can we work expeditiously to modify the schedules to ensure the DPW crews accomplish that task?" Marl asked interim city manager Mike Greene and Engineer Jeff Fordice, who managed the DPW until July.

Fordice said he thought additional flushings can help the situation.

"If our standard of excellence and goal for our residents and businesses is to be able to access clean, attractive, aesthetically appealing water, how many flushings would be appropriate per season?" Marl asked.

Fordice said two would be realistic, but Fordice wasn't sure two were necessary.

"I think doing two (flushings per season) until we don't experience this problem is probably advisable," Fordice said.

Fordice said he's talked to Tetra Tech, the private firm the city works with on water infrastructure, on sampling schemes that might give the city more insight into the issue and might lead to other solutions.

More Serious Than An Aesthetic Problem?

Councillor Jim Dell'Orco said he was growing increasingly alarmed by the number of complaints the city is receiving about discolored water and other quality issues. He asked if both of the city's reverse osmosis skids were working. Wyzgoski said one of the skids has been down since last week when it was removed for cleaning, but that it had nothing to do with the color of the water.

Dell'Orco asked Wyzgoski if he or his staff have tested for the presence of iron in the water. Wyzgoski said they test for iron frequently at the plant and at a few homes where people have complained about quality. He said there are "very low" amounts of iron in the water. He also said when he goes out to a home, by the time he arrives, the problem is no longer evident.

If daily testing indicates iron isn't an issue, Dell'Orco wondered if there might be another culprit.

"So that begs the question, what type of material would cause that discoloration if it's not iron? My concern is that it could be something more concerning in the heavy metal range or something we should be alarmed about," Dell'Orco said.

Wyzgoski said he didn't believe there was a more serious issue.

"I believe it's the sediment in the pipe getting stirred up by the velocity," Wyzgoski said.

Dell'Orco said he wanted to understand why this problem repeats itself.

"I think our citizens are demanding they receive high-quality water for the amount of taxes they pay," Dell'Orco said.

Councillor Christen Mitchell continued questioning Wyzgoski about testing, learning that he'd visited the homes of three residents who complained of the issue.

Answering another question from Mitchell, Wyzgoski said the changing levels in the water towers change water pressure in the system and create "sloshing" between the tower and the water plant that stirs up sediments.

Mitchell suggested the city have homeowners save cloudy and discolored water for testing.

Another Water Tower Needed?

Mitchell asked if there was a way for water plant staff to anticipate hot and dry weather and increase water supply ahead of time. Wyzgoski said more water towers would make that possible. The city currently has two water towers.

"We fill the towers on a nightly basis, but when people get up in the morning and start using water, the level drops and we have to refill them. To have a more static system, you'd have to have more storage capacity."

Mitchell asked if the city was closed to needing another tower.

Wyzgoski said that was an engineering decision.

Mitchell told Mayor Marl she would like a rough estimate of when the city will need another tower. Marl said he and interim city manager Greene would discuss the issue later this week.

Ongoing Improvement

Councillor Dean Girbach said additional water capacity was already on the city's radar because of the Andelina Farms negotiations.

"Those discussions have been occurring, it's going to depend largely on development," Girbach said.

Girbach said the city has been replacing four-inch lines with eight-inch lines over the last 20 years. He asked if they were lined the same way as the older cast-iron pipe.

Fordice said the very oldest pipes have an asphalt-based lining that's fallen out of favor. Newer pipes have a concrete-based lining.

Girbach said as the older pipes are replaced the city should eliminate more of the issue.

Fordice said the older lines have a greater propensity for being rusted internally.

"As those are removed, that source (of discoloration) will go away," Fordice said.

Girbach asked how much of the old pipe remained. Fordice said he didn't have that information.

Answering another question from Girbach, Fordice said the city is using new developments to improve flow within the system.

"I appreciate everything you and Steve are doing to try and address this," Girbach said.

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