(Updated) New Haven should expect its water to stay brown through the heat wave, but most people should feel comfortable drinking it, according to the water authority.
The Regional Water Authority (RWA) scrambled Wednesday to respond to widespread concern about muddy water coming through the tap over the past two days, as a heat wave slammed the city.
Increased demand from homes and “liberated” fire hydrants (such as the one in the video, in the Hill neighborhood) led the water to turn brown, according to the RWA.
New Haven households reported the problem beginning Monday night. Reports became widespread Tuesday and lasted into Wednesday morning.
Messages poured onto social networking sites Tuesday trying to figure out what was going on. The brown water stretched across the city, with reports in East Rock, Fair Haven, Dwight, Wooster Square, Westville and downtown. It reached the faucets of City Hall and the soda fountain at Sally’s Apizza, according to contributors’ posts.
Spokeswoman Kate Powell said Wednesday that the dark color comes from sediment stirred up by extra-high water flow due to high demand. Illegal open fire hydrants are a major draw on the system, she said.
The high flow of water “scoured” the water mains, scraping up sediment that is usually “sitting happily” in the pipes, Powell said. The RWA suspects the sediment may contain zinc or manganese. It is testing the brown water and expects to get results back today, Powell said.
Despite its “unappealing” appearance, the water is OK to drink, according to Powell.
“It is not harmful,” she said. “It is no different from the clear water, except that it has stuff floating around in it.”
She stopped short of calling the water “safe,” because it may not be safe for people with compromised immune systems.
As of Wednesday, East Rockers reported their water had cleared up somewhat, but remained too dirty to use for washing white clothes.
City spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said the RWA is handling the problem, not the city.
RWA gave several recommendations for what to do:
“It is a personal choice whether or not to use the discolored water for showering, flushing toilets, cleaning floors, etc.
“To drink lightly discolored water, fill a container, put it in your refrigerator to cool and let the color settle to the bottom. When ready to drink, use the clear water from the top of the container. You should use caution if you wash clothes, especially light colored ones, in your washing machine. Check the condition to your water to prevent staining.”
The water won’t return to normal until the demand falls, Powell said.
The RWA serves water to 430,000 customers in 15 towns in southern Connecticut. When the heat wave struck, demand jumped from 57 million gallons per day to 82 million gallons per day, Powell said. She said the RWA received complaints from people in New Haven, East Haven, West Haven, Hamden, and parts of Milford and Orange. All 15 towns were at risk of having brown water, but the problem tends to be worse in areas of high population density, she said.
“It really has to do with people,” she said. “It’s so hot out. People need water. It’s just a high demand. There’s really not a lot we can do.”
Powell said in the past, customers have suffered brown water for a brief amount of time, when someone in the neighborhood opens a fire hydrant. This year’s problem is more severe, she said.
“It hasn’t happened to this degree probably for 15 years,” Powell said.
The RWA outlined a couple of ways that people can assist: Restrict your lawn-watering to the early morning hours. And be on the lookout for open fire hydrants: “due to widespread illegal hydrant openings contributing to the high flows of water, please call your local fire department if you see an open hydrant.” The New Haven fire department can be reached during business hours at 203-946-6222.
If RWA consumers have questions, they can call 203-562-4020.
Powell acknowledged the RWA was delayed in getting the word out to customers. The utility posted the advice on its website at 10 a.m. Wednesday. At that time, it also began sending out warnings to people who signed up for Code Red Alerts on the RWA website.
In lieu of an official announcement by the RWA Tuesday, comments ran fast and furious on SeeClickFix. A commenter named Daisy posted these two photos—one of a white bowl filled with tap water, the other of the sediment it left behind.
Others debated whether to bathe in the water.
“My fiancee just took a shower and she did not die!” one commenter reported.
Another reported the muddy water had soiled a load of laundry.
“Had to rewash our whites!” Kmherb wrote.
Meanwhile, water was flowing fast and furious at the intersection of Frank and West streets in the Hill Tuesday evening. Neighborhood kids cooled off in the spray—and “shared” it with passing motorists, whether they wanted it or not. An occasional driver got a pass, but that was the exception. Click on the play arrow at the top of the story to watch the action.
I just called RWA and they said not to use the water for two hours.
posted by: East Rockette on July 6, 2010 9:59pm
Oho! The word verification for commenting on this post is:
Which could only be more excellent if it was brownh2o ...
Hope the water situation clears up soon! It may not be poisonous, but it sure is greebly.
posted by: Dartfin on July 6, 2010 10:15pm
Yet no one has felt the need to comment on whether we can wash our dishes or shower in it…given that it leaves a visible residue, I’d say not. But I want an official word on what it is EXACTKY (not some vague muttering about sediments), and whether it’s dangerous,
posted by: Concerned in Wooster Sq. on July 6, 2010 10:18pm
But is it safe to drink? Some people on seeclickfix reported that the water company says the problem stems from overwhelmed filtration systems. If that is the case the brown water may not be safe to drink. Clearly both the city and the water authority need to step up their crisis management and find ways to inform new haven citizens better.
Thank you guys for getting this up so quickly! Great reporting as usual. I’ve lived here all my life, not sure if I ever recall something like this happening, anyone care to refresh my memory?
posted by: ugh on July 6, 2010 10:57pm
Who needs terrorists when we have the South Central Connecticut Water Authority.
posted by: ;on on July 7, 2010 1:25am
I find it interesting that we, New Haven residents, are forced to deal with filthy water because of high usage but the city still feels the need to run the sprinklers on the green.
posted by: eastie on July 7, 2010 2:26am
“liberated” fire hydrants? try a life jeopardizing ... act of criminal mischief.
posted by: Omar on July 7, 2010 4:48am
THANK YOU for writing this article. Nobody else is reporting on this problem and it’s still not even on RWA’s website. I love RWA’s statement (if you don’t like the dirty water we supply, or think drinking unknown sediment might be unsafe, use something else). Again, thanks for sharing.
The statement from RWA doesn’t say if it’s safe to drink, bathe or brush your teeth.
posted by: Nina Binin on July 7, 2010 5:57am
This brown water needs to be acknowledged and explained to the public quickly by the Regional Water Authority. We are afraid to bathe in it and certainly not planning on cooking with it. HOW AM I GOING TO GET MY MORNING COFFEE?
posted by: Jane on July 7, 2010 6:01am
The hydrant @ Frank & West was illegally opened ( no city sprinkler on it ). It is so dangerous espescially for the motorist who may not see a child running through the stream of water. Also now the news is saying that the brown drinking water is related to all the fire hydrants that are continously being illegally opened again no so good. Shame on the people who are doing this.
posted by: Erin on July 7, 2010 6:30am
Thanks for going after the RWA to acknowledge what everyone has been noticing since early Tuesday. NHI was a full 8 hours ahead of WTNH on the story! Now how about investigating what appears to be rolling blackouts? Court, Academy and Olive went dark Tuesday night for the second night in a row. East Rock neighborhoods report outages as well. When will UI step up and acknowledge what’s going on? How about some instructions to residents on how to conserve energy and still stay cool to avoid further blackouts?? There’s a SCF started here: http://www.seeclickfix.com/issues/45176
posted by: R on July 7, 2010 6:41am
Let’s try to agree today to not water our lawns and open fire hydrants and allow others to leave hydrants to run open, so we have clean water tonight. I have never seen anything like this before!
posted by: walt bradley on July 7, 2010 6:48am
I blame Joey Williams. And DeStefano of course
posted by: Rich on July 7, 2010 6:53am
“If consumers are concerned about the water, they can use an alternative source such as bottled water until the problem is resolved”
So go out and spend more money on water because we have no clue what we’re doing or charging you for?! Seriously New Haven?! Was poland spring not making enough money this month?
Its been hot here before, and this has never happened, what a weak excuse.
posted by: terrapin on July 7, 2010 7:09am
I’m so glad the RWA is supplying me with this delicious chocolate water! Will I be charged extra for this?
posted by: streever on July 7, 2010 7:43am
It’s been so hot that I had 2 jugs of water in the fridge, to have it cold when I wanted it. I didn’t even notice the brown water. Was too hot to cook last night, so no dishes to wash… I woke up and saw 25 e-mails about it. Bizarre.
posted by: HewNaven?? on July 7, 2010 7:51am
This is kind of pathetic. Everyone puts all their eggs in one basket, so to speak, trusting a central authority of any kind and then decrying their lack of effectiveness in a crisis. Everyone suddenly becomes helpless when they realize that very basic necessities, like water, are supplied and controlled by a central authority. This scenario should shock and disgust us, but instead we use it as an opportunity to voice our opinions about what may have caused the crisis or who is to blame. We miss the opportunity to make real changes in our lives to affect our fundamental needs. We no sooner return to a cowering position before the state, pleading for their help, and the cycle continues.
With water being the most essential ingredient in our diets, we should know how to get it and filter it ourselves, if need be. This story has proven once again how most modern humans are not fit to survive in their environment. Most are being carried and propped up by the state or by a central authority of some kind, unable to account for their very basic needs such as water. How sad.
posted by: Irony on July 7, 2010 7:59am
“Our water consumers should be the best informed in the world. That’s our goal…”
Just SAVE a sample of this water and try to run Independent quality test.
posted by: William Kurtz on July 7, 2010 8:09am
Ckd wth th wtr ths mrnng nd nw hv lst ablty t spk r wrt vwls!
Actually, I’m surprised people say they have never seen this before; it seems to happen every year. Usually in the summer, when people are opening hydrants or the water company is repairing or maintaining the lines. It’s never been anything to worry about in the past, and a faucet filter clears it up if you’re worried about drinking it. I might hold off on washing your whites, though.
posted by: anne sommer on July 7, 2010 8:12am
we in whitneyville (hamden) are also experiencing the muddy-water problem.
posted by: Jeffery on July 7, 2010 8:33am
“I, me, mine”.....how embarrassing. Thank karma that the poor,little children were able to experience some relief.
posted by: Milt on July 7, 2010 8:37am
No, it DOES NOT happen every year.
posted by: Nikki on July 7, 2010 8:37am
Don’t believe the hype! The RWA’s excuse that the sediment is being stirred up because of the high demand on water due to the heat is a LIE!!!. I live in East Rock and this problem occured several times over the winter months. In the winter they told me that it was a crack in the water main and the dirt “sediment” was getting through. Then it was a problem with the filtration system. Now a totally different excuse for the same problem. And they tell us to “go buy bottled water”. So how about we all go buy this bottled water, and instead of sending money to pay our bills (which we’re still going to get) we send in all the reciepts from the bottled water (or filtration systems) that we buy.
posted by: Nikki on July 7, 2010 8:41am
@ William Kurtz:
The faucet filter is not clearing it up which is why we still see it in the water. Check out the pictures.
posted by: MM on July 7, 2010 8:57am
Its safe to drink the water. The EPA said the air was safe to breath after 9/11. Safe means we drop dead 10 years later.
posted by: Cedarhillresident on July 7, 2010 9:03am
Most know about this. It has always been an issue since I was a kid. It happens in the summer when kids open the hydrants and in community’s after a fire. Most city folks know about it….I guess not all. I just find it funny that people are freaken out like it is the end of the world. Again it happens every summer since I was a kid, and I am no spring chicken.
posted by: Cedarhillresident on July 7, 2010 9:05am
oh and PS if the Hydrants where maintained the way they should be this would not happen I remember they use to go and drain them every year to prevent the heaviest of build up which maybe why it it is getting worse
posted by: Jane on July 7, 2010 9:20am
Not true, FD inspects hydrants twice a year. And if a hydrant is used in the winter it is immediately pumped out and inspected the next day.
posted by: Whatsername on July 7, 2010 9:27am
I think I have a completely different perspective on basic utilities. I’m from the eastern end of Puerto Rico and the water or electric would go away often. During heavy rain our water would turn brown—sometimes they’d have to shut it off.
Trust me, it’s better to have brown water running through your pipes than having to not flush your toilet for a few days—because I sure don’t have the 50 gallon tank of back-up water that we used to have in PR—yup, to fill buckets up to flush the toilet and to warm up to bathe.
We have it exceptionally good up here—we rarely have interruptions of service. The power going away? Standard at least once a month in PR. I promise it’s not the end of the world.
posted by: William Kurtz on July 7, 2010 9:38am
I don’t know what the water company may have said in the winter months, but sometimes the same recurring problem can have different causes, as Cedarhillresident pointed out. And if not every year, Milt, at least many years.
Also, I was actually looking for a way to avoid advertising a commercial product but what I meant by ‘faucet filter’ was something like a Brita or a Pur filter. I have one on my kitchen faucet and it took the sediment out just fine.
posted by: MRM on July 7, 2010 10:24am
I am with HewNaven?? on this one. If you do not know how to filter and purify your own water you should learn this invaluable skill asap. I agree as well that RWA and such should do a bit better with keeping folks updated on water quality issues that may crop up - but the ‘crisis’ earlier this year in Boston with water quality shows that most people are too reliant on an outside authority for even the most basic of human needs. Imagine what the case would be were this not sediment, or if nothing came out of your faucet when you turned it on? What if you couldn’t go to the store and buy bottled water, or a water filter? If you don’t know the answer to these questions, you should think about spending the 15 minutes that it would take to rectify this sickening lack.
posted by: Amy on July 7, 2010 10:39am
Does anybody expect HONEST answers from RWA officials? Just continue to PAY for your water! Or, ask Debra Hauser for help.
posted by: East Rockette on July 7, 2010 10:51am
Hey MRM and HewNaven - care to share the knowledge, via a link or two? Or are you planning to set up a black market water purifying scheme the next time this happens, and charge the rest of us?
posted by: visitor on July 7, 2010 10:55am
most water authorities clean out the pipes regularly so that this sediment doesn’t build up, no? and with how ridiculously high our water bills are, i would expect more than this.
posted by: streever on July 7, 2010 10:57am
Yea Kurtz: I have a faucet filter (cost me like 20 bucks) and I haven’t even seen the sediment. I didn’t know this was happening until I received e-mails telling me to stop panicking from 50 odd people I know in New Haven :)
posted by: Cedarhillresident on July 7, 2010 11:00am
Jane that is not what I am talking about. It was always the NHFD job to do flushes annually. Maybe it is not there job anymore maybe the RWA does it now, Not sure.
This is a link to explain what I mean…not our of course but what the NHFD use to do. I the WH guys do it and same with EH.
I don’t buy bottled water and you know what, I appreciate that 364 days everything comes out fine, but guess what, we pay extra here for that service, and we’re NOT the third world ... Most of us are on fixed incomes and can’t afford the extra bottles or whatever it takes to get through. And I do know how to survive and can filter it, but then what do I pay for?? ...
posted by: Richard Scalzo on July 7, 2010 11:30am
What a range of reactions… Interestingly enough, I’m *not* seeing this problem even though my upstairs neighbors are. Water looks fine to me.
True that in this modern industrialized world, we depend a lot on centralized services. It’s their job to get things right, but it’s our job to hold them accountable for doing so. I’m glad they’re testing the water—if the sediments really are as innocuous as they say, the situation doesn’t seem all that bad to me (inconvenience, yes, but a minor one). But science should have the final say.
I used a modified version this filtration system when I was in the back-country of Assateague island, which had plenty of water and sand, but cloudy water. I made it from found materials and sand, but i would guess that most folks have something that would work similarly laying around. I also don’t think there is any problem with buying a filtration system from the store, etc. especially as a precaution, it is a pretty good idea! However, simple systems like that one above, or involving sand/gravel and gravity are not difficult to make, and could save your life in a dangerous situation.
Also, I don’t disagree that water bills are high, and that RWA should probably work to improve the quality of their website/sediment cleaning with this $$ - but in the event of a major water-based catastrophe, putting all trust in the RWA because you pay high water bills is probably going to bode poorly for you. As is complaining.
posted by: Ed on July 7, 2010 12:55pm
I’m all for liberation and keeping cool but when it muddies that water I think the ‘liberators’ need to go jump in a pool rather than turning on the fire hydrants.
Enough is enough, fix the damn water New Haven.
posted by: Alli on July 7, 2010 2:17pm
New Haven has dirty water.
posted by: L on July 7, 2010 2:28pm
I’m not drinking it!
posted by: Josiah Brown on July 7, 2010 4:53pm
“Water in the 21st Century” was the subject of a 2003 Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute seminar that John Wargo led.
(Among the Fellows in that 2003 seminar were two—Deborah James of Betsy Ross and Roberta Mazzucco of Hill Central—who also are participating in 2010 science seminars that the Teachers Institute is offering, on “Renewable Energy” and “Geomicrobiology: Life on the Rocks.”)
John Wargo, who is Professor of Environmental Risk Analysis and Policy at Yale, more recently led seminars on:
RWA are being partly truthful but deceitful. The water is safe to drink because it has been treated, and the very fine particles in it have also been treated. This includes filtration and chemical dosing including a degree of chlorination. There are negligible toxins or bacteria in it. What the RWA is not saying is the very fine particles, or sediment, are so small they are absorbed by the stomach lining and interfere with food digestion. They are ejected by the body but the result can be serious diarrhea or dysentery. So drink the water at your own risk. For washing its okay, as the sediment cannot be absorbed through the skin. My advice is buy bottled water till the water runs clean and has a slight chlorine like smell. If your neighbor or someone else in the same building has a problem, then you have it too, even though your water may look clean.
posted by: cedarhillresident on July 7, 2010 6:58pm
oh one more thing can’t have a story about Muddy Water without having a song from Muddy Waters :)
the liberals tend to make fun of us right wingers that stockpile a little food and water in case of emergencies.
posted by: aharpe on July 8, 2010 6:50am
panic? about brown water? I think rather than panicking this is a moment for us all to be grateful we have piped water at all, not just piped but clean, most of which we don’t even drink but flush away or use to wash clothes or water our lawns. That’s a great deal more than the vast majority of people in the world have. So as you filter, or boil, or buy bottles, or go through whatever tiresome process you have to go through to reassure yourself that you are not going to die from drinking this water, keep in mind the people worldwide who have to drink water they know is making them ill, who have to walk miles to fetch that water, every day of the year.
posted by: Josiah Brown on July 8, 2010 7:11am
Re: the comment by “aharpe” on access to clean water around the world, one resource with both Connecticut and international ties is:
OK, thanks to “AHARPE” we now know that New Haven (All American city) has 3rd world standards for drinking water.
posted by: aharpe on July 8, 2010 8:06am
Ami, my point was not that it’s ok to accept third world standards in a city such as New Haven. As I explained, even this brown water is of a much higher standard than most people in the world have to accept. I was simply making the point that perhaps this is an opportunity to think about others less fortunate than ourselves, and even perhaps to be really radical and think about what we might be able to do to help bring about change for those people.
posted by: Saradipitea on July 8, 2010 8:16am
Just did a basic google search to see if any other towns are having this problem. There is one other news story about a town in New York’s lower Hudson valley, and one about a town in Texas that had this problem last May. Otherwise, it just seems to be us. Why does this problem occur in just a few isolated towns? I generally believe that the water is usable..but I also think this shouldn’t happen at all.
posted by: Brian on July 8, 2010 12:50pm
Looks like the discolored “brown” water is due to the resuspension of manganese sediments in the water distribution system from high demand flows. This is a fairly common problem that is nearly unavoidable in extreme situations such as with this heat wave. I would not drink the water and it can stain laundry. Your best bet is to wait until the evening hours when system demands drop and the water clears.
posted by: abg on July 9, 2010 5:35pm
The air we breathe on a regular basis in New Haven is far more disgusting and unhealthy than this brownish water coming out of the tap—it’s just that you can’t see the ozone, SOx, NOx, and particulate matter as easily as you can see sediment residue in your water. But nobody seems to complain very much about the air quality except a few activist groups that nobody pays much attention to. Wake up, New Haven!
posted by: HewNaven?? on July 10, 2010 2:27pm
“There is growing recognition of the need for increased access to drinkable water across the world and for water treatment approaches that improve the quality of the delivered water and re-establish a balance between human and natural systems. In the current paradigm, however, large-scale, centralized water treatment systems are slow to accommodate changes in supply or demand, and impede innovations that could address these issues because there are too many perceived risks—financial, technical, system, and organizational—associated with introducing change into these systems. Localized, networked water treatment systems improve access to potable water, encourage the development and diffusion of innovations through reduced financial and technical risks, lower the potential of total system failure, and provide easier trial and replacement of specific innovations and greater organizational capacity. “
“Improving the sustainability of water treatment systems: Opportunities for innovation” by Sarah Slaughter