Penhold’s tap water may sometimes look unappetizing but it’s safe to drink, assures the mayor.
Some of the town’s residents have been taken aback when they turn their taps and a noticeably brownish water runs out for a short while before turning clear.
Mayor Dennis Cooper said the problem has been traced to iron sediments in the town’s water supply pipes. When air gets into the system because of a break — as happened just a couple of days or ago — or the sediment is stirred up and clouds the water.
“It doesn’t come out brown every time,” said Cooper on Friday. “It’s just when you have these water breaks that cause it to happen.
“This particulate is very distressing because it looks like tea. It’s not a pretty colour,” he acknowledges.
Despite its appearance the water is safe, he said.
“Everybody is obviously concerned about the safety and the quality of the water. We’ve had our water tested numerous times.
“Alberta Environment came out and we went through the whole (water system) and checked where this brown was coming from. They have given us a letter saying our water is safe in that area but it does have this particulate in it when it’s stirred up.”
A few separate factors have come together in Penhold to make the problem worse.
One of two wells that serve Penhold has a high iron content so there is more of it than usual to settle out. Cooper doesn’t believe it’s a coincidence that the problems first began to appear 10 years when that well started pumping.
As well, new provincial water regulations require higher levels of chlorine, which has the side effect of separating out iron from the water, further adding to sediment. Chlorine levels were even higher for a time last year when the water treatment system was being upgraded.
And earlier this year, the town got all of its water from the high-iron well while maintenance was done on the other.
Which homes are affected depends on various factors, such as the plumbing’s age. There have been streets where three houses were tested and only the middle home had problems.
“It’s so hard to figure out why some have it and some don’t.”
Cooper said the town is already looking for another water source to replace the high-iron well.
“At this present time, we’re doing hydrology reports and starting to look towards that.”
Even when a new well is hooked up, it could take years before all of the sediment is flushed out of the system.
In the meantime, residents who have murky water have been told to call the town. Crews will come out and flush the line through the closest fire hydrant.
Some residents, including Cooper, have installed their own filter systems, which work well.
Several people on a community Facebook page questioned why the town didn’t hook up to Red Deer’s water system. That would be prohibitively expensive at this time, said the mayor.