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Brown water incidents to be monitored over winter

Taking a wait-and-see approach, the Pequot Lakes City Council agreed Tuesday, Oct. 2, to monitor the city’s recurring problem with brown water over the winter before taking any possible action.

As a goodwill gesture to residents who have city water and sewer, the council agreed to offer them a 50 percent utility billing credit for September.

“Obviously the city should do something,” said Mike Loven, public works supervisor. “My recommendation is at least 50 percent of the water and sewer charges for a month. Some people are being asked to run their water for an extended period.”

The utility billing credit would mean a one-time $30-$40 savings for about 340 customers, or an estimated $22,960 city cost.

City staff have received 150 brown water complaints since mid-August, when they started keeping track. That doesn’t include complaints received in July and the first two weeks in August.

City clerk Sandy Peine said some people are understanding; others are irate and upset. Many are buying bottled water.

“I think it’s a goodwill gesture,” Peine said. “These people have been putting up with a lot.”

The council realized the billing credit doesn’t solve the problem.

It’s believed that construction at Pequot Lakes School and high water usage in the city this summer led to the appearance of brown, rusty water. The city flushed hydrants, but brown water seemed to resurge every seven days.

It showed up again after an industrial park fire where firefighters used a lot of water from a hydrant.

The cause: In the 40 years that the city didn’t have a water treatment plant, iron and manganese material that is natural in the environment coated the pipes in the distribution system, and high water use has caused that material to break loose and float in the water main.

Lee Bundy, facilities manager with the Pine River Area Sanitary District, which the city contracts with for services, reiterated that the water isn’t a health risk. Tests have shown the iron and manganese levels are under the minimum levels to be deemed unsafe.

And, he said, an unrelated inspection by the state Department of Health also reaffirmed the brown water does not present a health issue.

Bundy presented the council with several options to tackle the problem.

One method would physically scour the inside of the mains to rid them of collected scale, but it would be expensive.

Another option would be to add a chemical to coat the inside of the pipes to reduce or stop the descaling, but many people don’t advocate adding chemicals to the city water supply.

The council discussed taking the nearly $23,000 utility billing credit and instead putting it toward a solution.

But, as it did in September, the council unanimously agreed again to wait to see if the problem goes away with lower water usage over the winter. If the problem persists, the council will consider a more permanent solution.