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Get ready for brown(er) water

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Many villagers are, unfortunately, already familiar with brown water occasionally coming out of their taps. But next week they should expect to see water that’s darker than ever.

“This has the potential to be the worst we’ve seen in a long time,” Village Water and Wastewater Plant Superintendent Joe Bates said in an interview last week.

Consequently, Bates and Village Manager Patti Bates (no relation to Joe) want Yellow Springers to be prepared for the dark water — potentially the color of coffee, according to Patti Bates — that will likely accompany next week’s flushing of Village hydrants.

Typically, the hydrants are flushed for about a week twice a year, the periods during which brown water makes an appearance in village homes. However, due to a water plant filter malfunction in the spring, the Village hasn’t been able to flush for almost a year, so it’s probable there is more buildup in the system. While the buildup — mainly manganese with some iron — is unsightly, it does not pose a health risk, according to Joe Bates, who said the levels of manganese and iron in even the darker colored water are far below levels considered unsafe by the EPA.

“It’s mainly a cosmetic issue,” he said.

The Village crew will begin flushing hydrants on Monday, Aug. 18, in the south end of town and work its way north. Some neighborhoods may experience darker water than others, and villagers who live north of Herman Street tend to have less water coloration (some may experience no brown water at all). The flushing will likely take all week and villagers may experience the brown water for a period of several days.

However, homeowners can lessen the effects of brown water by flushing out their home water system when the brown water appears, according to Joe Bates, who suggested opening a spigot at one part of the house until the water there runs clear, then continuing to open spigots through the house until the whole house system clears. It’s also a good idea to run a wash cycle without clothes to get rid of the coloration. And if clothes are stained by the minerals in the water, the Village utility office offers a free product, Iron Out, that removes stains caused by iron.

The water plant malfunction in the spring, during which one of the plant’s three water filters was offline, prompted a Village government request that villagers curtail their water use on big projects, such as washing cars and watering lawns. But that request to conserve water is now over, since the new water filter has been installed recently and appears to be working fine, Joe Bates said.

The water plant filter malfunctioned in April, and it was immediately taken offline. While it’s not entirely clear what caused the problem, a crack in the grout may be the culprit, according to Joe Bates. Village staff initially thought the immediate area causing the problem could be repaired, but that turned out not to be the case, and instead the whole filter, including the underdrain beneath it, needed to be replaced. Consequently, a repair that was initially estimated to cost around $30,000 ended up costing about $62,000, he said.

The repair process was complicated and costly because the filter consists of two feet of sand that sits in about eight feet of water — water from Village wells flows through the sand, which catches debris. The sand sits on top of an underdrain, a hollow plastic structure that both supports the sand and is highly porous, allowing water to flow through it from both above and below, Joe Bates said. To replace the underdrain, the sand had to be suctioned out and replaced. The filter repairs were made by the company Artesian of Pioneer.

While it’s not entirely clear why the filter originally went bad, Village staff is looking at changing the way it cleans out the filters each week to avoid a repeat of the problem.

It was good news that during the extensive repairs the water plant’s two other filters continued doing their job, so there was no water crisis. However, the whole experience led Joe Bates to feel more strongly than ever that the 50-year-old Village water plant should be replaced.

“This has given me less confidence in the old plant,” he said.

Village Council has over the last several years considered how best to address the aging water plant. Recently, Council has leaned toward rebuilding the plant with softening capabilities rather than refurbishing it. Council has stated it hopes to have made a decision and have an engineering design in place by the end of the year, and recently tasked Manager Bates with hiring a consultant to analyze the costs and effects of different methods of softening water.

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Get ready for brown(er) water

by Diane Chiddister