Whitewater city officials say drinking water is safe
“It’s not the drinking water that’s the issue, it’s the groundwater,” said Dean Fisher, director of public works.
The city, the county health department and the state Department of Natural Resources work together to test water drawn from five deep wells. The water system regularly is tested for dozens of contaminants and substances and must be in compliance with national standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency.
“We test for everything under the sun … and we have had no detects whatsoever on any of our wells for any petroleum products … ” said Rick Lien, water utility superintendent.
Joe and Kathy Channing, 531 S. Clark St., have not drunk city water piped into their house for more than a year.
“It tastes and smells like it’s stale … like it’s old. It rusted the stainless steel dog bowls. And it even came out of the faucet brown sometimes,” Kathy said. “I don’t know how to describe it. I just don’t want to drink it.”
Kathy reported the issue to the city, and a water department employee took a sample from a faucet in the house. The city within about week told her the water was fine.
The Channings learned in spring that leaking fuel tanks at the former Five Points One Stop gas station at 503 S. Janesville St. had contaminated groundwater in their neighborhood. The couple was informed the problem was going away and the state needed to close the case.
They were upset that no one had told them the groundwater was contaminated with an unsafe amount of benzene, a carcinogen, for the 10 years since the gas station closed.
City officials say city water is fine, despite groundwater contamination in the Five Points neighborhood.
The city by law must let residents know the quality and safety of the drinking water by publishing a consumer confidence report. Reports are included annually in water bills. They also are available online through the DNR.
“If we do find a detect of some chemical, it has to be listed in the report,” Lien said. “If we get a detect on something, it shows up in there. If there isn’t (a detect), it isn’t in there.”
Lien said the water at the Channing house might smell and taste bad not because of a problem with the water but because of a problem with their plumbing.
“There are many things within a municipal system that can cause a bad taste or smell, but all of what we have found, all of it is within household plumbing—and most often it’s a problem with the hot water heater,” he said.
Kathy said it has to be more than just a plumbing problem.
“I highly doubt it,” she said. “The whole street—from everyone I’ve talked to around here—doesn’t drink it. And if they do, they filter it.”
The Channings already were concerned something might be wrong with their drinking water because of its taste and smell. But they now are worried they are being exposed to toxic vapors from the contaminated soil under their house.
“It’s a gas,” Kathy said of the chemicals in the groundwater. “And the gas will find any way out if it can. It will go through any crack and work its way out and fill the room.”
Part of the Channings’ house has a concrete basement, but a crawlspace under part of the house has a dirt floor.
Kathy said her family regularly gets its drinking water from an artesian well on Clover Valley Road in Whitewater Township, and they often meet people from other parts of the city who also prefer the artesian well water.
The Channings remain upset that their house now is in a database of closed environmental remediation sites and that they are responsible for disclosing the information to builders or buyers.
“The thing that gets me is now the property owners go on a registry of ‘damaged goods,’ and we’re just supposed to just sit here?” Kathy said. “There’s nothing to help us out here. And that’s where I’m just disturbed by the laws.”