Pink, green and brown. The water from the taps in Mindy Gray’s Opal house was all of those colors at different times last week.
She wasn’t alone. Her neighbors in the Green Meadows subdivision were seeing colored rather than clear water. Off-putting for sure, though safe to use and drink, according to the Fauquier Water and Sanitation Authority.
The WSA shut off the filtering system in the community’s water system and is filling the storage tank serving the 92-home Green Meadows community daily with water brought in by tanker from Bealeton while it works to replace the faulty equipment.
WSA: Not a health risk
Soon after discovering the strangely-colored tap water last week, Gray and her neighbors called the WSA and checked its website for answers they felt were slow in coming. The first complaint was called in on Presidents Day, Monday, Feb. 18 at 9:30 p.m. The WSA office was closed for the holiday and an answering service took the call. The volume of calls to the WSA picked up on Tuesday, Feb. 19.
“We immediately went over, shut the removal system off, and began flushing the discolored water from the system,” WSA Director Benjamin Shoemaker said. That was the morning of Feb. 19. “While not a health risk, it’s unappealing, and flushing the discolored water from the water distribution system is time consuming due to the limited water supply in a small system like Green Meadows.”
Shoemaker said a valve malfunctioned on an automated iron and manganese removal system on one of three filters in a small building next to the community’s water storage tank, which is located along a service road behind houses at Green Meadows.
The automated system uses potassium permanganate in the iron and manganese removal process, which turns water pink. Permanganate is one of the most common removal chemicals in the water industry because it’s considered safe, Shoemaker said.
Clear water comes out of the tap when the filters are working as they should. But because of the malfunction, pink water emerged. The green and brown water some residents found coming from taps was caused by iron and manganese in the water, Shoemaker said.
WSA contacted Virginia Water Service, which handles preventive maintenance on its 16 groundwater systems. In January, the company performed annual maintenance on Green Meadows’ two wells and its 20,000-gallon holding tank and filtering system. A WSA crew also did its daily check of the system on the afternoon of Monday, Feb. 18.
While Virginia Water System said the existing 18-year-old system installed by the subdivision’s developer could be repaired, it couldn’t assure WSA it would stay fixed. Now Shoemaker is looking for a new valve. He is also considering whether a “more manual approach” to add chemicals, rather than an automated system, would work better.
High bills, hard water
The WSA was also doing damage control on another front. Shoemaker said a letter would be mailed out this week to residents that will explain what caused the discolored water and what’s being done.
For Gray, the colored water “was the last straw.”
“We’re paying top dollar for water that we shouldn’t even be drinking,” Gray said, noting her monthly water and sewer bills total $160 or more in Fauquier – much higher than the $120 she paid quarterly in Fairfax County.
Gray said she wants a credit on her bill for the discolored water. Her family, which includes two boys and a German Shepherd, have lived at Green Meadows since 2014. This is the first time they’ve had a colored water problem.
She said she also doesn’t like the “hard” water that comes from the tap and thus drinks bottled water. Some of their neighbors use a water purifier, but the Grays don’t.
Shoemaker acknowledged Fauquier customers pay more due the “economies of scale” that allow water and sewer systems in more populated areas to spread the cost among more customers. The average user in Fauquier pays $55.98 for water and $75.20 per month for sewer – roughly $135 per month. There are 6,000 water connections in Fauquier.
The WSA board approved a rate increase over five years, starting July 1, 2016, with higher increases the first two years and 3 percent increases in each of the final three years. Every WSA customer pays the same rate no matter where they live.
A community meeting is also planned to hear other concerns about water hardness as well as water and sewer bills.
“We want to see how we can do a better job,” Shoemaker in response to the complaints.
Fauquier County Supervisor Rick Gerhardt (Cedar Run) and Ray Graham, the district’s representative on the WSA board, were in agreement that a community meeting is in order.
Shoemaker said he has talked to the homeowners association representative for Green Meadows about setting up the community meeting, which will likely be held in March. The date and place will be announced after arrangements are made.
Reach James Ivancic at firstname.lastname@example.org