After years of water running brown, lines are being replaced
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — For years, Newtown resident Anthony Tucker has been paying between $60-90 a month for water he doesn’t feel is safe to drink.
To illustrate why, he reaches under his kitchen sink and pulls three bottles of water from the cabinet: One from 2016, one from 2017 and one from June 27 of this year. A pile of rust-colored sediment sits in the bottom of each.
“I hate to buy water and pay the water bill. We’ve been doing this for many years,” Tucker said. “Why should we have to pay for water twice?”
At the end of Foster Street, Willie Lee Thomas Jr. keeps a similar collection, except the water in his bottle — water he said he pulled from the tap in early December — is entirely brown.
“I don’t drink this. I only use bottled water,” Thomas said.
One street over, Alice Yu said she first complained to the Montgomery Water Works and Sanitary Sewer Board 11 years ago when her water started smelling “fishy.”
Since then, she’s become known as the “water lady,” as she loads her trailer up with cases of bottled water from the nearby Cash & Carry and passes them out to residents.
“I’ve been doing that for years,” Yu said.
Montgomery Water Works first began to alleviate residents’ concerns on June 27 this year, when they arrived on Yu’s street to test the water and open a fire hydrant to flush the line.
Video Tucker took from that day shows the streets filled with copper-colored water meant for residents’ homes.
“When they opened this fire hydrant it came out orange, like rust,” Yu said. “You see the orange left on the sidewalk. And that was in June. That’s when they came out and started paying attention.”
Montgomery Water Works has tested the water several times since then after receiving numerous complaints.
“The water is good and safe. It just has a little brown color,” said Water Works board chairman Richard Hanan in an interview with the Montgomery Advertiser.
This assertion is backed by the EPA, which only sets limits on the amount of iron allowed in water based on aesthetic (odor, color, taste) and not safety concerns. And yet, as residents carrying jugs of brown water to meetings with Water Works have found, nobody feels safe drinking that water.
“We took it to the meeting and you can hear his people say, ‘I don’t want to drink that water,’” Tucker said.
Water Works began working to solve the issue, replacing the nearly 100-year-old corroded, cast iron pipes with plastic PEX pipes.
The $1.5 million project is expected to be completed by summer 2019, but harder to repair will be the city’s relationship with a neighborhood that feels neglected and like the project is only now being undertaken to avoid public blowback after residents brought the issue before City Council in October.
“There’s always been a water problem. I’ve had to call them on numerous occasions about the water and ask them why it was running brown,” said Newtown resident Elbert Abdur-Rashid, who said he’s been calling the city since 2005. ...
A collection of more than 300 small houses on the other side of the tracks in north Montgomery, Newtown was established in 1836, 17 years after New Philadelphia and East Alabama Town merged to become Montgomery.
According to Montgomery Advertiser archives, the community was originally where the white population had slaves take care of their horses and carriages and freed slaves settled the area after emancipation.
Besides the corroded pipes, the community also sits on a 96-acre flood plain. While a levee to the north and a dam on the northwest side attempt to keep water at bay, their effectiveness can be measured by the 2 1/2-foot watermarks on still-empty houses.
“All these people moved away,” said Newtown resident Sharon Harris, one of those leading the effort to catch the city’s attention.
That exodus from the neighborhood has added to the current plumbing problems.
With 320 houses but only about 120 homes actively using water, the water has for years been sitting still in the pipes longer than it should, said Water Works chief engineer Henrique Rizzo.
Declined water usage means less freshwater comes into the line and anti-microbial chemicals such as chlorine dissipate.
“When we first checked it, the chlorine was low because the water was sitting there, but we’ve added chlorine to make sure it’s ample and checked it before and after,” Hanan said.
Water Works’ plan to keep the water fresh can be seen at the end of the streets where pipes spray water into the air and onto the grass.
“The water is getting wasted, if you will, but it keeps fresh water coming in and the age down,” Rizzo said.
A pipe on Ferguson Street has been shooting water toward the railroad tracks nonstop since July, residents said. Outside Abdur-Rashid’s house, water flows continuously from another pipe jutting from the soil. A similar pipe spits its water down a PVC pipe in the cul-de-sac in front of Thomas’ residence.
The inside of the pipe is stained red.
“On one occasion, the water ran brown for a long period of time. I just let it run,” Abdur-Rashid said, describing his faucet water. “It makes me feel uncomfortable. Insecure.”
The neighborhood’s continuing water issues have also corroded residents’ trust of the city and cast a shadow of fear across Newtown.
Several residents will say they had intestinal issues that they can only correlate with drinking unchlorinated water. After the chlorine levels were increased, both Tucker’s and Yu’s sons have broken out in rash, a sometimes common reaction for those sensitive to chlorine.
“These things have been happening to us and we get no help. People get sick. My son’s been breaking out around his face and stuff. He bathes in the water. My wife is itching and stuff,” Tucker said.
Harris will point to the fact that the Water Works laboratory is located on Richard Hanan Drive as evidence that Hanan can manipulate water tests. There’s no evidence of that or of the water being linked to area health problems, but it’s a common belief among Newtown residents that represents the paranoia associated with pouring unclean water from the tap.
“They’re telling us all the time they tested the water and the water was safe. It makes us feel lied to, scared. It’s risking our health and the health of the kids,” said Harris, who keeps a notebook meticulously full of notes from each conversation she has with a Water Works employee.
In an attempt to gain peace of mind, Tucker and Abdur-Rashid took matters into their own hands with Abdur-Rashid saying he installed all new pipes on his property “to assure myself my lines were in properly.”
Tucker did the same in 2009 and even replaced his rust-caked sink and bathtub. Now Tucker’s bathtub is once again stained orange.
“I spent $22,000 on my house, and my house is messed up again,” Tucker said.
Potability tests taken from the Newtown Community Center in October show the water is safe to drink, however, the stigma surrounding the rust-colored water has continued to prevent residents from drinking it.
When asked if they would drink water the brown water in Newtown, Rizzo said, “Yes.”
Hanan said, “It would depend on where they got it, how long it’s been sitting there and what the containers were.”
The replacement of Newtown’s pipes was already planned before this year, but Rizzo said hearing the concerns spurred Water Works to correct the issue.
“We had some main breaks, but the complaints moved it up on the list,” Rizzo said.
The new PEX pipes are smaller in radius than the cast iron pipes, which Rizzo said will help the stagnation issue, and Water Works is also checking the lines from the water meter to the house.
“Which we don’t normally do,” Hanan said.
Rizzo said he thinks the new lines will solve the coloration issue, but “we’ll see when we’re done.”
That’s a fear for Newtown residents as well.
“What about the pipes further up? What about that water? You’ll have the same water coming back in these pipes,” Tucker said.
As Abdur-Rashid stood outside a house he inherited from his parents, workers across the street laid new pipe on land he hopes to build on.
The retired former Marine said he had received flyers from Water Works saying the water was being tested and assuring residents it was safe to use.
As he is asked if he believes them, a pipe breaks across the lane and begins spewing water above the hard-hatted heads of the workers.
“I have no choice,” he said. “I had to accept or do without. They’re in charge.
“You have to trust who you’re paying.”
Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com