Neighborhood questions water quality despite good test results

Water tests that came back negative for bacteria haven’t soothed the minds of residents of a northwest Minot neighborhood, who still have concerns about discoloration, odor and potential health risks of their city-supplied water.

The City of Minot took six samples in the 800 block of Second Avenue Northwest on Friday after a private sample tested positive for coliforms at First District Health Unit in Minot. A water company took the sample using a sanitary kit provided by the health unit.

Jason Sorenson, assistant public works director, said the results that came back on the city samples Saturday indicate that the water is safe. However, he said, the city will investigate and make sure valves are open to ensure that there is nothing impeding water flow that could account for the discoloration, believed to be iron from the cast iron water mains. He added that lead should not be a concern because it is not found in the mains. Residents can mitigate for any lead in service lines by letting the water run briefly before using it.

Rebecca Rosales-Olmos, whose kitchen faucet had provided the positive coliform sample, wasn’t accepting the results of city samples taken outside homes after flushing lines.

“Just fix the problem. Stop hiding it,” she said. Rosales-Olmos attributed a variety of skin conditions, infections and flu-like illnesses experienced by her family to the water.

Her neighbor Dan Meschke said he noticed his water was yellow after returning to his renovated home after the 2011 flood. He said he contacts the city regularly to report his concerns.

“It’s a big problem. The whole neighborhood is getting bad water,” he said.

He said his family members have suffered rashes and infections that they suspect may be due to poor water quality. The Meschkes had their water tested about a month ago. No bacterial contamination was found.

Meschke said rusting is apparent on the drains of fixtures, and his family doesn’t wash white clothes at home because they become discolored. Even a water softener doesn’t get rid of the problem, he said. They run their drinking water through a reverse osmosis system.

Other neighbors also report that they have been calling the city periodically about unpleasant water in recent months.

One of those residents, Nathan Mugaas, said water discoloration and odor have been problems on and off. During a particularly bad period in early September, the water look on a reddish color. On Friday when the city tested, his water was having one of its better days. That leaves him wondering about days when the water doesn’t look so good.

“Half a dozen tests in one afternoon probably doesn’t give me complete comfort,” he said. “I would really like to see the city doing a few more tests over a longer period.”

Wayne Kern, director of the Division of Municipal Facilities, at the North Dakota State Health Department said discoloration is common after water has been stagnating in pipes for a long time. It can take a long period of flushing and water use for the water to clear again, he said.

Based on routine water testing required by law, the City of Minot is in compliance with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, Kern said. The law sets limits for lead and copper, but many other minerals, such as iron and manganese that can discolor water, are not regulated.

“That’s thought to be more of an aesthetic issue,” Kern said. “That doesn’t mean it’s desirable for water to be colored.”

The city has been flushing lines in the northwest neighborhood multiple times a week, which some residents say helps for a while and others say does little good.

“During the summer, it’s easy to flush. You just open a hydrant and let the water run,” Sorenson said. “Unfortunately, we have winter knocking on the door and we are going to have to find some creative ways to do some flushing.”

Sorenson said stagnant water can be a problem in neighborhoods where some homes remain vacant after the flood. The water use isn’t heavy enough to keep the water clear. He said the city recently received a complaint of discolored water from a southeast Minot resident, whose neighborhood has only seven of 16 homes occupied. The city has been flushing water lines to try to improve the situation.

Sorenson said the city wants to know when residents experience water issues.

“If people think they have a problem, by all means, give us a call,” he said. “If they need a water test done to give them some peace of mind, we certainly can do that. We take all these complaints seriously, and we want to look into each and every one of them to make sure people are getting a good quality water.”