Just when you thought it was safe to drink the water, I come along and post this picture of the water I got out of a tap in my basement last night. That was Friday evening, a day after I got an autodialer call from the mayor which said we no longer have to boil our water and that it is safe to drink. I don't know, but on my part of Planet Earth, drinking water is supposed to be clear, not black.
As you can imagine, there is a little more to this picture and that the water that comes out of the spigots in the bathtub and sinks upstairs does not look quite as bad as this, but you would have to admit black stuff shouldn't be coming out of the drinking water pipes in any part of your house.
To bring everybody up to speed, here is what has been going on in River City which led to this crisis.
Last weekend, we had a heavy rainstorm which caused some local streams and the river to swell. When this happens the water in the river gets very muddy. Since the City of Trenton's water utility pumps its water directly from the river, this presents operational problems for the operators of the system. Steps need to be taken to insure that sediment is properly removed from the water before it is delivered to homes and businesses, and this requires extra care during periods when the river is muddy.
Our new mayor, Tony Mack, who took office in July replaced the manager of the water works with a political crony who does not even live around here. It seems nobody told the new guy about what to do when the river gets muddy. He stayed home and left his cell phone off during the rain storm and could not be reached. The old manager never had a problem during storms because he kept someone back at the filtration plant to monitor the situation and change out filters every hour or so. That didn't happen this time, and the filters clogged up and the pumps shut down.
After several hours of no water being pumped into the system, the reservoir was drawn down and by last Saturday, the water pressure dropped down to practically nothing. I was wondering why water flowed at a trickle from my bathtub.
Nothing was told to the public until Monday evening, when I got an auto dialer call telling me to boil my water. According to the Trentonian, the water works people were trying to rectify the problem of low water levels on Monday, but there was a series of screw-ups which led to the muddy water in the tap water.
First, a neighboring private utility, American Water, was advised to star pumping water from its system into Trenton's pipes, but this did not happen right away. These is some dispute as to why this did not immediately happen, but it did not and that allowed pressure to fall further throughout Monday and some of the city's schools had to close because they did not have enough pressure to allow toilets to operate.
At the same time, the Trenton plant's workers were changing out the filters, cleaning out clogged pumps and readying the system for restart. When it was restarted Monday afternoon, the valves were not opened in the correct sequence, which flushed thousands of gallons of muddy water into the water mains. It also caused a large water main under East State Extension in Hamilton to blow out, causing the interruption of water service for several hundred customers, street flooding and the collapse of the roadway over the pipe. The pipe, which is many years old may have ruptured due to the sudden increase in water pressure.
According to Tuesday's Trentonian, problems with muddy water were widespread across the city. It even disrupted business at the laundromat owned by the South Ward city councilman. Muddy water was flowing into the washing machines and the customers couldn't get their clothes clean.
As you could imagine, being told to boil your drinking water and having mud flow from the tap is not something that is expected in the United States. Maybe in Haiti or some other third world country, but not here. Unlike most problems that affect the city, this one could not be ignored by our neighbors in Ewing, Lawrence, Hopewell and Hamilton townships, where many residents are also served by the Trenton Water Works. So, welcome to the ghetto my yuppie friends, sometimes what affects us in the city finds its way to your half-million dollar houses outside the city limits.
So, you are probably wondering what can be done about this problem. It is becoming more obvious by the day that Trenton has selected a mayor even more incompetent than the last one, and we will probably be stuck with Mr. Mack for almost four more years. Let's face it, the man can't even keep up with the mortgage on his home. If he lets his own home fall into foreclosure, how can we expect him to be any good at handling the city's finances. Here is a guy who got fired from a job as a school board business administrator because he misplaced over $1 million. He couldn't even pay his help on time after the election. The mayor has a track record of picking his friends and supporters for key jobs, regardless of how incompetent they are. I mean, this guy's hiring practices would even make Boss Tweed blush.
So we now have a water works in the hands of morons who fed us a diet of contaminated water last week. The system hasn't been properly maintained because Mayor Palmer, who was in for 20 years prior to Mack refused to invest sufficient money into keeping up the system, and now we can expect to have pipes blowing out on a regular basis. (What do you want from a mayor who also allowed the city's streets to turn into a potholed mess that resembles the Ho Chi Minh Trail.)
Well, maybe we can't expect the system to be run any better for the foreseeable future. But you can take steps to protect yourself. About 10 or 15 years ago I got tired of taking baths in Coca Cola colored water and installed tow whole-house filters in series on my water pipe. They are the large sized General Electric filters that are available at any Home Depot. Here is a picture of my system.
Replaceable filters go inside each cup located on the bottom of the apparatus. These cups screw off with a spanner wrench which is supplied with the filter housing kit. You have the choice of using a paper filter which is less expensive, last longer and traps most particles (mainly iron and mud), or you can go with a charcoal filter which eliminates smaller particles and also removes chlorine and makes the water taste more like bottled water. These don't last as long. What I do is place the paper filter in the first canister, closest to the street, and the second one gets the charcoal filter. In normal circumstances, you can go three months on a set of filters. This time my filters were overwhelmed after one month, because the lines were full of mud.
Here is what a set of clean filters look like.
As you can see, the filters must be taking something out, because they are nice and brown. In normal circumstances, the filters catch some of the calcium which clogs up the cold water taps over time around here so you don't have to take them out as much to chip out the lime deposits. They also keep the iron chips from making it to your sink so you don't have to clean them out of the strainer on the tap. In the city, as I said previously there has been a longstanding problem with water quality over the summer months or when there is a fire nearby. On hot days, people open the fire hydrants and this knocks the rust loose in the water mains and you get a dose of rusty water for several days thereafter. The filters have solved this problem and my bathwater no longer looks like Coke. I also had the city come out and replace the pipe which runs from the water main to the curb and that improved my water quality. The old pipe was made of galvanized steel and was rusted out. They put in a new copper pipe. The pipe from the curb to my house is also copper, as is all my indoor supply pipes.
Because there is a lot of sediment in the water mains even under normal circumstances, I have installed blowout valves at the end of my hot and cold water lines. When I change the filters, I crack open the valve to "blow down" the system. When I first put in the blow down when I installed the filters, the end part of my cold water pipe was clogged with mud and I had to shove a screwdriver up it to get it to flow. Blowing down the system prevents sediment buildup. here is a picture of my blowdown setup.
Here is what I got when I blew down the cold water pipe yesterday. Because of the problems with the water main, I must have filled up the bucket at least 10 times and was unable to get it to run clear, but the water was a lot cleaner when I got done than on the first bucketful. Here is what the first bucket of water looked like.
True, nobody should have to put up with a third world water utility in an American city. Unfortunately, we are stuck with one. However if you filter the incoming water, regularly blow down your hot and cold water pipes and periodically drain your hot water tank, you can insure the cleanest possible water for your family.
And of course, remember to write the Governor to ask for more tax dollars to fix up the state's physical infrastructure, including the Trenton Water Works.