‘The taste is horrific’: Alberta residents dispute Penhold mayor’s claims tap water is safe
According to some residents in Penhold, it’s not just a water main break or leak that is behind the troublesome water flowing through their taps.
Lonnie Boxer came to Penhold seven years ago this past December, and aside from a break four months after she and her husband moved in, they said they haven’t experienced another one. But Baxter claims their water situation has never been dependable.
“The only consistency that we seem to have in Penhold with the water is the fact that we have inconsistencies, throughout the whole community,” Boxer said.
“The water typically runs fairly clean most days, but there’s an awful smell to it and the taste is horrific.”
The public works manager for the town of Penhold said part of the problem is the Alberta government raising chlorine minimums for water in recent years.
“What happens is the chlorine reacts with the iron and manganese that’s in the water, and that’s naturally occurring as we’re on ground water wells,” Nancy Mcateer explained. “The chlorine causes the iron and manganese to precipitate out into the pipes, more so than it would at a lower dose rate.”
The inconsistent water situation is different, but just as frustrating for resident Kyle Neilson, who along with his wife Jill, struggles with the colour of his water every evening as he attempts to prepare baths for his one-year-old daughter.
“It’ll start out clear and then it just turns a really bad, rusty brown. And sometimes worse–it gets to the point where you have to drain your water in the tub repeatedly. Sometimes it takes you five or six times to fill a tub.”
Mayor of Penhold Dennis Cooper said the recommendation is to do just that “if you do get some discolouration…you have to just let it run until it turns clear… just let it flush it out.”
“It costs $1.35 for a cube of water,” Cooper said. “A cube is approximately 225 gallons. If you let your tap run for 10 or 15 seconds… it’s not going to cost you a lot of money and also it’ll give you peace of mind.”
Neilson disagrees with this reasoning, suggesting the property taxes in Penhold are already high enough without dealing with unnecessary, additional housing costs.
“Why should I have to pay for the town’s dirty water? We pay for the water and we pay for disposal. Every litre that comes out of my tap and down the drain, we pay double for that.”
Mcateer said it’s of the utmost importance residents reach out: “If you have issues with your water, please call the town’s public works department – we can help you.”
But Neilson feels this isn’t a viable solution to a chronic issue, saying he’s emailed the town almost daily in the past.
“They would come flush the hydrants, to stir up the sediment or whatever is in the lines, but it wouldn’t clear anything up. We’d get it the next day.”
Cooper said the town council is working on a solution, although it will not include some of the most common suggestions his office receives.
“There’s no way to absolutely clean every pipe in town and some people think there is, but there isn’t,” Cooper said.
The mayor also said for the time being, hooking up to a neighbouring water line is not feasible. The last quote he received for what it would cost to implement such a system was $23 million.
“One of the things we have planned in our five-year plan is adding another well. We have talked to other communities about adding to a regional system but we don’t see the money out there soon, so we’re more likely to see another well come on.”
In the meantime, residents will have to be patient and wait, and Cooper has asked they trust in the systems and procedures in place.
“I’ve lived in the town for over 35 years and the water…I drink it every day. It’s safe water …we’ve done some research with it, with the Alberta government and our public works team to make sure the water is safe and it’s tested regularly. So I’m quite confident with our water.”
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct Lonnie’s last name to Boxer, rather than Baxter as originally published.
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