Town dealing with discolored water

Lucas Vance Staff Writer

November 24, 2013

WINNSBORO — For the past three weeks, Winnsboro’s water customers have dealt with a yellow-brownish water coming out of their faucets.

Water customer Eloise Montgomery expressed her concerns during the Nov. 19 town council meeting.

“It has been almost three weeks now,” she stated, “and I want to know what is being done to expedite the situation.”

Montgomery said she has been taking her clothes to a local laundromat because she feared her home water would discolor her clothing in the washing machine.

The Town of Winnsboro posted a notice on its website Oct. 30 about the discolored water.

The town’s water comes from a reservoir, and because of the recent weather change the reservoir has turned over the cooler water at the bottom to the top. That turnover has brought up sediment including manganese, which discolors the water.

“It is not dangerous to your health and does not cause any illnesses,” Mayor Roger Gaddy noted. “But it doesn’t look very pretty.”

It takes some extra filtration to get the manganese out of the system and also takes some time for the manganese to settle back to the bottom.

Gaddy gave caution to washing clothes with oxidizers to prevent staining, but assured Montgomery there was no health hazard.

“It is safe to drink and the main thing is just the cosmetics of it,” he said.

Because the occurrence is a “freak of nature,” Gaddy said there has been no discussion of monetary compensation to customers.

Town Manager Don Wood said that the Department of Health and Environmental Control was aware of the problem and have been at the water treatment plant monitoring the situation.

“They are completely aware of the high levels of manganese and they’re doing everything that they know to rectify the situation,” he stated.

High levels of manganese have occurred in the past, but it has not taken as long to correct according to Winnsboro’s assistant water supervisor Otis Williams.

“I haven’t seen levels like this in 20 years,” he noted. “These levels are very high and rare.”

Manganese is a common chemical element found in water and soil. Williams said that the town is working to correct the problem by bringing in pumps and special chemicals (potassium permanganate) to help get levels under control. Williams told The Herald Independent that DHEC has been on site working along with the town and says there is no health risk.

“Right now we are just sending them (DHEC) daily manganese-level reports and so far the water is clearing up,” he stated.

Current reservoir readings are good, but that the yellow water might linger for a few days as it gets flushed from the system. It is taking longer than anticipated because of the amount of manganese in the water. The non-toxic chemical needs longer to oxidize. Williams said that his staff has taken an extra step to treat the water directly at the reservoir as opposed to treating the water at the treatment plant.

“That (extra step) is removing the manganese a lot faster and people will begin to see a big difference,” he noted. “It is clearing up and we’re starting to get a handle on it.”

The Environmental Protection Agency’s limit for manganese in water is set at .05, although that limit is not a health hazard limit, but is an anesthetic limit. There are no health affects of manganese in drinking water.

According to Williams, manganese levels in Winnsboro’s water was between .03 to .02 on Nov. 21. Before treatment started manganese levels were as high as .15.

There has been not notice or warning from DHEC about the safety of the town’s water.

“As long as we keep them (DHEC) in the loop they work with us,” Williams noted. “If we were out of compliance with anything they would of let us know.”

If there was a health hazard of any type, there would have been a boil-water advisory issued immediately.

Williams did recommend giving another few days to allow all the manganese to dissipate from the system. In order to prevent discoloring clothing in the washing machine, Williams suggested customers NOT to use bleach or any detergent that has oxidizers in it.

Typically, a customer might see the discolored water come from their hot water more than the cold water, because the hot water in the tank is used less often.

Williams recommended flushing out the hot water heater to help remove any manganese that has settle in the tank. Technically, manufactures recommend customers to flush out their hot water heaters once a year regardless if they are on well water or city water.

Williams said the water treatment plant will begin developing pre-oxidation strategies to avoid future issues.

Although he did not want to speculate, Williams said he suspected that the high levels of manganese were also a result of the rain received during the summer causing manganese to become stirred up as opposed to the years before when the town was in a drought.