Illegally tapped fire hydrant caused discoloration, county says no threat to health
An illegally tapped fire hydrant has caused the water supply in a Waldorf neighborhood to be brown and cloudy.
Karla Kornegay, a resident in the North Pointe neighborhood in Waldorf, said she called the Charles County Utilities Department last week complaining about brownish-yellow water coming from her faucet. But over the weekend, she said, she did not hear back and had to find other water sources for the time being.
Kornegay said she had to “come out of her own pockets” to find clean water for her family to use.
“We don’t need another Flint, Michigan. Especially not in my neighborhood,” Kornegay said. “We’ve had to deal with this all weekend. I’ve had to go buy gallons of water and bottles to cook.”
County Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) said Kornegay approached him with the issue, which he looked into and ordered Charles County’s Department of Public Works to investigate over the weekend.
There were complaints from 14 residents in total made to the county’s utilities department about discolored water in the neighborhood. Robinson said the water and situation was “immediately analyzed,” which determined the system needed to be drained.
According to Crystal Hunt, public information officer and spokeswoman for Charles County Government, the department looked into the issue on Friday evening and discovered someone had illegally tapped into a fire hydrant in the neighborhood. This action decreased the water pressure in the pipe system and released extra iron into the system.
Sediments of iron rest at the bottom of pipes and, when the pressure falls, they mix into the water stream. Illegally and incorrectly connecting to a fire hydrant changes the system pressure and will cause iron deposits to mix in with the water.
But still, throughout the weekend, the water in the system remained brown. Kornegay said she and her neighbors are still concerned that this has happened and do not know if they can continue to trust the system.
“I’m not really willing to use the water, even right now,” Kornegay said. “I know they’ve gone into it, but it’s still got some color. How do I know what they’re saying is true? Are they going to continue testing it?”
Robinson said he understands why some would have reservations about trusting the water system after something like this, but the water was never “toxic,” and was not going to bring harm to any citizen.
“This certainly isn’t Flint where we have lead pipelines in the county. I can assure everyone, we don’t have that problem,” Robinson said. “Obviously, brown drinking water is not something anyone wants to see. But the resolution is fairly easy and we’re still in the process of doing it.”
Hunt said the process of cleaning out the water takes time. The process began Friday and was still continuing through Tuesday. The county has to open one end of the water valve and close the other to filter discolored water out.
“Sometimes when they start the flushing, it can affect homes that weren’t initially affected. But once the flushing is done, the water is clear again,” Hunt said. “It’s not toxic and not harmful.”
But Kornegay said this is not the first time this has happened in the neighborhood. It’s becoming more and more of an issue, she said.
The county has an anti-brown water program, Hunt said, which is a flushing schedule the utilities division follows to rid the county’s major pipes of issues. Normally, there will be warnings about flushing and occasional brown water issues, but it’s typically resolved in a few days.
The county utilities’ emergency line is open 24 hours and the county also offers discounts for water discoloration, Hunt said. Kornegay said she did receive a discount from the county on her water bill after it was determined her water was discolored.
Overall, Hunt said, this is nothing to panic about.
“That’s what we want to emphasize. It’s not toxic, it’s not harmful. These are natural iron deposits that are already in the pipe so they’re in the water they use day to day,” Hunt said. “When they get stirred up, they cause discoloration. That’s all.”