In Pswid Muddy Waters Run Deep

Murky water spurs controversy, conflicting theories


Jessica Barnett shows a bag of brown ice produced from the Pine Strawberry water system.

Jessica Barnett shows a bag of brown ice produced from the Pine Strawberry water system. Photo by Max Foster. |

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About 30 distraught Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District customers confronted board members during a Nov. 15 meeting demanding to know why water in the two mountain hamlets is often turbid, sandy and seemingly undrinkable.

But they didn’t get the answer they sought.

Board Chairman Gary Lovetro told the audience that the district’s operating firm, CH2M Hill is monitoring water quality, but doesn’t yet know what is causing turbidity in the water. He insisted the gunk in the water poses no threat to human health.

However, some audience members said that they would never drink the murky water.

Possible causes include a significant water line break adjacent to Pine-Strawberry Elementary School, line breaks during the construction project on Pine Creek Canyon Road and sediment in a 300,000-gallon tank that occurred during a water outage June 4 to 8, according to PSWID District Manager Brad Cole.

However, much of the discussion at the meeting focused on audience questions about the possible role of the Milk Ranch Well.

A September district Turbid Water Report found no indication that excessively turbid water came from Milk Ranch No. 1 well. However, one month later CH2M Hill found that the well was producing turbid water and immediately stopped sending that water into the distribution system.

Cole said the turbid water was the first from the Milk Ranch Well since the district connected to the system in March 2012.

Cole said the district could install controls like turbidity meters and control valves to divert water should the water turn milky brown again and obtain a discharge permit to allow the district to dump the turbid water into nearby creeks. In the audience, many blamed water from Milk Ranch Well No. 1 for the water quality problems.

Tests on the well seem to validate their contentions. Recent turbidity test on samples from the Milk Ranch Well found levels in the 5-8 Nephelometric Turbidity Units (NTU) range.

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Pine residents asked for an explanation for murky water at the last board meeting, but got no definitive answers.

NTUs are measures of light transparency through water and turbidity refers to the amount of suspended solids in water.

The district considers 5 NTUs acceptable, but the World Health Organization contends that drinking water should be less than 5 NTUs.

Surface water being chlorinated should be less than 1 NTU, the World Health Organization concluded.

Although Lovetro and district hydrologist Chuck Dickens argued the impact of turbidity was only esthetic, the crowd was in no mood to hear that.

“I wouldn’t even like to take a bath in it,” said Pam Mason.

Ray Stevens, who owns a small canning firm in Pine, approached the board with several samples of pickles.

One jar’s contents, which Stevens said was prepared with Pine water, were murky, discolored and highly unappealing.

Stevens indicated Pine water had ruined the product and cost him hundreds of dollars.

Jessica Barnett and Laura Miranda, whose father Tom Weeks owns Pine Ice, showed the audience a bag of almost brown ice they said was the result of using water from the PSWID system.

“It’s obviously unusable; probably unsafe,” she said.

One after one, distraught audience members approached the board with horror stories about their drinking water, saying it was not suitable for any type of in-home use, including drinking.

Although high sand contents have long been a problem with water pumped from the Milk Ranch Well, district officials didn’t talk much during the meeting about sand in the water. The October-September district manager reports also focused on turbidity, not sand.

Recent tests done on the Milk Ranch Well indicate when the well is pumped at 75 gpm, sand and turbidity levels only “approached acceptable levels.”

The district could install filters to reduce sand and turbidity levels, which is what the consulting firm Tetra Tech suggested when it was serving as PSWID’s engineering firm. However, after a rift developed between some PSWID board members and Tetra Tech, the engineering firm parted ways with the district. The filters were not installed.

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