It has been roughly three months since a number of South Pasadena residents first witnessed brown and yellow water running from their water taps. Now, if the city’s plan proceeds as expected, a short-term solution may be only two weeks away.
A staff report expected to be made public Thursday by the City of South Pasadena’s Public Works Department detailed the findings of tests conducted on residents’ discolored water and revealed two potential short-term solutions that could eliminate discolored water from homes as soon as mid-June.
“We’re just getting the final costs on those two short-term solutions,” the city’s part-time public information officer, John Pope, said Tuesday afternoon. “If implemented, they would resolve the problem until the replacement of the wellhead treatments in January. We should know by the beginning of next week if they are financially viable. We are confident they are.”
The discoloration issue stems from a state mandate implemented in January that lowered the acceptable level of 1,2,3 –Trichloropropane (1,2,3 – TCP), which has found to be cancer-causing in trials with rats, to 5 parts per trillion. The mandate caused South Pasadena to begin blending surface water from the Metropolitan Water District with ground water from the city’s wells. This blending has created more corrosive water, water that reacts with either the city’s water mains or residents’ pipes resulting in higher iron oxide contents that is changing the water’s color.
Of the 88 resident complaints filed with the city to date, samples have been taken from 43 homes. The city has received complete results for 22 of those samples, and partial results for the remaining 21.
Full results will be presented to the City Council at the June 6 meeting by members of Public Works. Residents who have had their water tested will receive their full results by mail on the letterhead of Eurofins Eaton Analytical, the independent company – located in Monrovia – that conducted the tests.
Eurofins is conducting primary and secondary testing on the water samples. Primary tests measure levels of metals that can be hazardous to human health, most notably lead, manganese and arsenic. Secondary tests record iron levels and turbidity – a measure of water’s cloudiness caused by suspended particles.
“Generally, it is the iron that is coming in high,” Pope said of the results. “Other than one preliminary report of high lead content, which staff believes is unique to that particular home, the levels of lead, manganese and arsenic, and all other primary testing, meet safe drinking water standards. The water coming into houses is safe.”
Pope said the city has notified the resident whose water contained elevated levels of lead of its finding. “At that point, it requires working with the property owner on resolving that issue,” he explained. “But, it becomes, essentially, a private property issue.”
The city’s investigation so far indicates that the source of discoloration is not the city’s pipes or connectors but the galvanized pipes of private properties.
“There’s a high degree of confidence that it is the galvanized pipe and a reaction with the galvanized pipe,” Pope said. “The water mains and the connectors are city-owned and have been tested. Once water gets into homes, when there is galvanized piping, that is when the water is becoming discolored.”
Pope said that of all the homes tested, all have at least a small amount of galvanized piping.
Pope also said that staff is trying to vary the times of the testing, including visiting homes early in the morning before their water system has been flushed.
“[Public Works staff] try to pull samples from a variety of areas in a residence,” Pope said. “They log when it was taken, where it was taken from, what the time of day was. They do attempt to get in early before that first flush.”
So far, the public information officer said, the city has not observed a case where a resident’s water does not eventually clear up after flushing.
Proposals for a potential short-term solution that could resolve the issue in the next couple weeks were expected to be included in Thursday’s staff report and will be expanded upon and discussed at the June 6 Council meeting.
At that meeting, Council is also expected to receive a staff recommendation to award a contract for the construction of the city’s long-term solution, a wellhead treatment facility tentatively scheduled to be completed in January.
The wellhead treatment facility center will cost approximately $2.3 million, according to preliminary estimates. The city is looking at ways to get a faster design that could accelerate the wellhead installation by a few weeks.
“The city had always anticipated that it would have to build a wellhead treatment center but the unexpected part was that some pipes would react this way to the MWD water supply,” Pope said. “The city has used [MWD water] before for blending with our groundwater supply and it never caused a reaction. The difference was the higher amount that was in this mix.”
“Ultimately, we’re going back to ground water,” Pope continued. “It’s just a matter of getting to that point and addressing short term solutions because we know the longer term solution is going to work.”