Some Liberty City residents say local water is leaving a bad taste in their mouths.
Tim Fulgham, operations manager for Liberty City Water Supply Corporation, said a temporary disinfectant conversion has affected water color, smell and taste but this is not permanent and has no negative health effects.
Fulgham said the corporation is temporarily switching to a chlorine disinfectant to alleviate buildup in water pipes and improve water quality overall.
“We treat with chloramine like most cities do,” Fulgham said, referring to a mix of free chlorine and ammonia. “It’s not as strong of a disinfectant as pure chlorine. It’s longer-lasting and doesn’t create byproducts as bad as free chlorine.”
Fulgham said the disinfectant switch was a normal part of maintaining the city’s water lines and helped to remove buildup known as “biofilm” in water pipes.
“We began treatment on October 15,” he said. “It’s just a process. Tyler has to do it, Longview has to do it.”
He added the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has a website with more information about the treatment process. This site states a process known as nitrification can occur in public water systems treated with chloramine, leading to a loss in water quality. Recommended treatments include regular monitoring of nitrate and nitrite levels in water, regular flushing and developing and following a Nitrification Action Plan.
“Every day we are taking tests from different points and looking at the chloramine level. We are looking at nitrate and nitrite levels monthly,” Fulgham said, adding the corporation is also performing heavy flushing in their lines.
Fulgham said water treated with chlorine is not recommended for people undergoing dialysis treatment or tropical fish but poses no health risks. He added anyone with complaints about their water can contact the corporation.
“If they call us we can go their area,” he said. “We’ve tried to get with every area to flush. If they call, we can go out and flush their area.”
Some of the corporation’s water customers have posted complaints on social media. Lance Kitchen posted a photo to Facebook Oct. 30 showing what appears to be sand or dirt collected in his bathtub from the water.
“It hasn’t been going on very long, probably for about the last month,” Kitchen said of the sediment appearing in his water. “It’s not real consistent. I did contact the manager and he’s flushed out the hydrants on our water loop. He did flush that out and I haven’t seen anything since then.”
Kitchen said he was aware of the corporation’s disinfectant switch and noticed an unpleasant smell in his water at the time but states his water issues are not just related to the switch.
“My concern since we’ve moved here is the scale and buildup. There’s just a lot of stuff in the water even without the dirt,” Kitchen said, noting he had lived in his home for about a year when he suddenly began noticing the sediment.
“We had it tested awhile back from a guy who sells water filters. It was over 750 total ppm dissolved solids. That’s pretty high. It’s not out of range for safety but it’s a lot higher than you want,” he said.
Kitchen said Fulgham took a sample of the sediment after his online post to determine if it could be entering the water supply through a break but then decided to have it tested chemically when he saw it was too fine to match local soil. Kitchen is still waiting on the test results.
The water quality is no secret in Liberty City, Kitchen said, but he knows the water corporation is facing a tough problem with an expensive solution.
“Everybody knows the water is very corrosive and it eats through the hot water heaters so that doesn’t surprise anybody,” he said, noting a reverse osmosis system would likely solve the problem but such a system is extremely expensive and would impact the monthly bills of every Liberty City water customer.
“They’re working on a limited budget. They’re not out to get anybody,” he said of the company. “I wish they could do more but it doesn’t have a city to fall back on to help with a big system like that.”
Water quality is not the only issue Kitchen has with the company.
Last week, he said, the corporation gave him 10 days to test an RPZ valve, or reduced pressure zone valve assembly, on his sprinkler system. These valves must be tested every year, Kitchen said, and the local water can cause them to fail by fouling the valve. Testing can cost over $100 and replacing the valve can cost over $300.
Kitchen hired a technician for the test and the valve failed. Replacement valves were back-ordered so he was unable to get a replacement in the 10-day period. He purchased a repair kit and was in the middle of repairing the valve when the corporation shut his water off for taking too long to replace the valve.
“I could have begged and pleaded and they probably would have given me an extension but they didn’t even knock on my door or give me a call to let me know. I had been talking to them about it. I’ve never been late on a payment. 10 days is not very long to get all that done,” he said.