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Solution to water problems should come in 2014, PUC says

Tuesday, December 03, 2013   by: Darren Taylor

Sault Ste. Marie PUC President and CEO Dominic Parrella has delivered an apology on behalf of the local utility company regarding its handling of customer calls in a recent east end brown water incident, and also stated that a solution to ongoing problems with the taste, odour and colour of the city’s tap water will be brought forward in 2014.

Parrella’s comments came at Monday night’s regular City Council meeting, in the presence of Mayor Debbie Amaroso, City Councillors and staff, as well as a gallery filled with dissatisfied PUC customers.

Parrella’s appearance before Council Monday came after a November 20 incident in which east end homes experienced yet another brown water incident, with many PUC ratepayers finding their taps, tubs and toilets filled with discoloured water.

The PUC has stated that particular incident can be traced to a malfunction at a fire hydrant on Algoma University property.

Resident Skye Burke sent an open letter of complaint regarding the situation to SooToday.com, published November 24.

Burke appeared with other PUC ratepayers at Council’s Monday meeting.

Burke addressed Council and repeated her frustration with not only the taste, odour and colour of her tap water, but also with what she felt was an inadequate PUC customer service response to her November 20 telephone call to the local utility, in which she reported a brown water incident at her home.

Burke told Council: “I’m simply asking the PUC to be community-minded, through better water, customer service and communication.”

Parrella said he realized the PUC needs to do better, and apologized to PUC customers for ongoing water problems (especially brown water events) and for how long it took for the PUC to respond to customer service calls November 20.

“We weren’t equipped for the more than 300 calls that came in November 20…we provided a very poor response to those people in failing to meet those needs,” stating that new telephone technology will be able to handle 500 customer service calls.

Speaking to SooToday.com, Parrella said: “Communication was a problem with our after-hours calls.”

“In the short term, when we see a sudden barrage of calls, we will bring in additional staff to get back to customers in a reasonable amount of time.”

“If 300 or so calls come in, we’ll do our best to get back before the night is over.”  

“Currently our after-hours customer service line has only one person on…we’ll call out additional staff to respond depending on what the situation is.”

The PUC has stated the brown water is caused by its flushing of sediment from aging watermains throughout the city, improper use of fire hydrants, or work done at construction sites, all of which can all lead to brown water incidents.

Parrella said there have always been brown water incidents, but said: “It is true that since the PUC’s switch to free chlorine in the water in 2011, the frequency of brown water incidents has increased greatly, and so has the size of the area involved.”

To completely flush the hundreds of kilometres of water pipe running under city streets will take a few more years.

Parrella was accompanied by Chris Kresin of Kresin Engineering in his comments to Council.

Kresin is working with the PUC on a Water Quality Optimization Strategy.

Both men told Council and PUC customers a strategy to correct taste, odour and colour issues with Sault Ste. Marie’s water is being worked on.

Speaking to SooToday.com after his presentation, Parrella told us: “We are in the final stages of the study which is aimed at a long-term solution to all three problems, the taste, the odour and brown water.”

A Steering Committee is currently in place and at work on the water issues, consisting of the PUC’s own staff, Algoma Public Health, senior local Ministry of the Environment (MOE) officials, City Councillors and members of the public.

“We’re going to have an answer in January based on the input from experts in this field,” Parrella told us, though he could not commit to how long it would take to actually fix the water problems.

Depending on which solution is chosen, correction of the water's taste, odour and colour could take at least two years, or perhaps three or four years.

Parrella said: “(The solution) will be taken from test results identifying all possible causes and solutions…the Committee will narrow it down to two or three possible solutions, then narrow it down to the best possible solution.”

Ward Six City Councillor Joe Krmpotich asked Parrella if PUC customers who have had their laundry and appliances stained by discoloured water could expect compensation.

That would not be feasible, Parrella said. 

Parrella told us: “Customers who have had brown water should run their taps for 10 minutes.”

“The cost of flushing your kitchen tap for 10 minutes amounts to four cents.”

“It would cost us more in administrative costs than it would in direct reimbursement.”

However, Parrella added: “If a customer’s clothing is ruined (by brown water) and cannot be recleaned, a customer is encouraged to file a claim with us, but generally speaking we can provide a product that works quite well in removing rust coloured stains in clothing and appliances, a product not available on the shelf.”

Ward One City Councillors Steve Butland and Paul Christian, who represent the area in which most brown water incidents have occurred, each commented that they and their constituents have been frustrated but were encouraged by the PUC’s acknowledgement that there is a problem that must be rectified sooner than later.

“We look forward to seeing you in the New Year,” Mayor Debbie Amaroso told Parrella.  

 

Comments
38
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TFinn 12/3/2013 9:34:05 AM Report

Solution to water problems should come in 2014, PUC says

"should"

Now leave the poor PUC alone ...lol
Ski-Dude 12/3/2013 9:37:53 AM Report

OMFG wait longer and pay more...wow! The matter of fact is not something they value..... "should", "maybe" "could" lmao
Grizz72 12/3/2013 9:41:06 AM Report

Just wondering if a filtration system would work on this type of sediment,

eg: (water softener, sediment filter, carbon filter etc. some sort of automatic back washing system)

maybe PUC can work out some sort of deal for the home owners to have one installed, I realize that this is an extra cost to the home owner over the years but it would provide a better quality of water and there are lots of perks from a water softener (if it would work) ????

Just a thought
Hamguy 12/3/2013 9:41:55 AM Report

I wonder what the product is that can remove Rust stains from clothing and appliances that " is not available off the shelf "
Wicket 12/3/2013 9:43:19 AM Report

Perhaps the studies and expertise they are seeking to rectify the problems should include other cities/towns who have made the switch and have either had no problems or have had problems and been able to rectify them. Hopefully that is the case and that we don't just have shirts sitting in chairs looking at a computer for answers.
Beej 12/3/2013 9:51:41 AM Report

You "Should" have left the damn water alone, there was no reason to change it one bit from the way it was except GREED.
See where that got you?
Lone24 12/3/2013 10:06:35 AM Report

I found i don't have to run my taps for more than ten minutes to get rid of brown water. I have been lucky not to get the brown water but have to run my taps for a half hour just for the smell to be gone.
ThinkAgain 12/3/2013 10:08:35 AM Report

Dominic Parrella, you must of heard of the television commercials: CLR - Calcium, Lime & Rust Remover - 828 ml only $8.99 at Canadian Tire, Home Hardware, Home Depot, at least buy everyone a bottle for Christmas or wold it interfere with your own Christmas bonus.
Lone24 12/3/2013 10:08:50 AM Report

Either way like Beej said they should of left the dam water the way it was.
xyz123 12/3/2013 10:45:23 AM Report

Here is why the water had to change: The PUC did an outstanding job of identifying homes that had lead (pb) pipes. Once you reach a certain percentage of homes found with lead, the province maindates that you must do corrosion control. Sault STe. Marie was told by the province that we must do corrosion control, no ifs buts or maybes. Corrosion control means changing the water chemistry, the choices were to go to free chlorine or a different chemistry that would have involved adding numerous other chemicals. The best choice was free chlorine because it would involve the least amount of chemicals in the water, even less than with clorimine. The second choice would have also likely had some taste differnces as well. The free chlorine, unfortunetely has caused some of the old iron sediment to become dissolved, the extent to which was not anticipated. This will eventually clear up with additional flushing and time. I do not work for the PUC but have researched this very well and asked the PUC hundreds of questions over the past two years. I am confident the PUC made the right deceisions at the right time in response to a provincial requirement.
xyz123 12/3/2013 10:47:35 AM Report

If you experience a brown water episode, do not use any water, call the PUC and they will flush the watermain on the street. If you install a tap filter of some kind and then try to filter out the brown water sediment with the filter you will just clog the filter up right away and you will have wasted your money. Supplying tap filters would not work.
The Freq 12/3/2013 10:49:30 AM Report

They say the problem of the colour and the taste of the water is being worked on??? So why do they keep blaming this hydrant flushing thing if it's something else? Maybe I'm reading that wrong. Pretty sad when we can't believe the rants PUC dishes out. I'll drink to that with my good tasting bottled water. :-)
Hatch 12/3/2013 10:49:43 AM Report

"should".......really?
eds 12/3/2013 10:59:43 AM Report

tap filters wouldn't be the best solution for brown water but they sure do make the water drinkable we've been using one since they first screwed up the water and the water we drink from that tap is as good as it used to be before the foul up..
port 12/3/2013 11:07:22 AM Report

An Einstein saying comes to mind in this situation:

"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."

3 years and counting now.....

Hopefully there are some real solutions brought forward in January.
icecoldstare 12/3/2013 11:08:09 AM Report

Yes "should".

Could imagine if they said "will" and then it isn't 100% cleaned up.

Promise little, deliver more.

Anyone who promises more and delivers less is just foolish.
bbcat 12/3/2013 11:28:42 AM Report

keep the pressure on the bastards , the water sucks.i have to run the water 10 minutes to get the chlorine stench out and i,m not talking about once a day, it,s everytime you use it. we voted you people in to do what WE want not what you want
Beej 12/3/2013 11:45:32 AM Report

"Parrella told us: "Customers who have had brown water should run their taps for 10 minutes."

"The cost of flushing your kitchen tap for 10 minutes amounts to four cents."

"It would cost us more in administrative costs than it would in direct reimbursement."


Obviously, Mr. Parrella is not aware that some are already receiving a credit for flushing their tap crap.

"T-Pot says: "As I live in the East End, rarely see brown water and have already received a whopping $2.50 credit."

What's good for one is good for ALL.
Get with the program, Parrella.
T-pot 12/3/2013 12:03:44 PM Report

Beej : You had mentioned they should have just left the water alone. And they only changed it because of greed. Now how uninformed is that statement? They were mandated to change it.

If anyone wants credits, I called and I was civil, and I stated I deserve a credit. I should NOT have to pay for water/sewage costs for something that is not my fault. If they try to deny it, call the BBB.

This can all be done without flying off the handle, name calling, accusations, ignorant comments, etc.
shju 12/3/2013 12:27:16 PM Report

You would be surprised on how many homes still have cast iron pipes. Any home built in the 40s or earlier will have them unless they got changed out which most haven't. Also every house that has been build prior to 1984 could have asbestos in the drywall. All the houses in the P-patch that have 9" by 9" floor tiles in their houses are made from asbestos. Any homes that still have knob and tube wiring could have asbestos wrapping around it. If your home was built in the 50-60s and you have a furnace all the duct wrapping is made from asbestos. If you have a boiler system from a house that was built in the early 1900's all your hot water pipes for the rads are wrapped with asbestos. Any homes built prior to 1990 all your copper water pipes used lead as a solder which has been now outlawed. Any home that was built and painted prior to 1980 has the potential to have lead paint on every wall. If your house has lath and plaster the plater could contain asbestos.

My point is that the old ways of building are unacceptable now. Puc is trying to change to the future but is encountering the old system. It will take time and A LOT of money which no one has. The amount of chlorine in the water now is a fraction of the levels in your pool or spa. The water is safe to drink.... It always has been. If you want to go back to the "old" then change every supply line from the road to your taps to pex or copper. You do your part and PUC will do thier part. Ahh that's right, that's totally not feasible as no one has the money to change everything.
Beej 12/3/2013 12:28:51 PM Report

"We had two choices; either add more chemicals to alter the chemistry of the water and thereby reduce the amount of lead leaching from pipes into the water; or stop using ammonia and switch to free chlorine."

"We chose the second option because we believe that people would rather have fewer chemicals in their drinking water than more chemicals."


They should have consulted the people of SSM and took a vote instead of just acting on their own when it had to do with something so vitally important.

The excuse "We believe" doesn't cut it, not at all.
shju 12/3/2013 12:44:21 PM Report

Beej, so you would rather have lead in your water system or more chemicals? As long as it tastes fine right?
R0FL0L 12/3/2013 12:47:01 PM Report

It made CBC Radio
"Tuesday December 3, 2013
Northern city councils
We check in with some of our northern city councils to see what our municipal politicians are up to. In Sudbury, decisions about daycare were made. Sault Ste. Marie had to deal with a dirty water issue. In Timmins, the topic of discussion was crosswalks."
you can listen to it:
http://www.cbc.ca/morningnorth/
scroll down to the article.
shju 12/3/2013 2:12:08 PM Report

We also pay the salaries of every business in the world but we don't have a say on how they model thier business. This is the best decision at the time based on the condition of our system. Maybe in 20 years they will change it up based on the progress of the system.
shju 12/3/2013 2:19:30 PM Report

Sometimes you have to pick the lesser of 2 evils for the short term so that in the long run it will benefit everyone. I would hate to say this but if anyone here has worked in the maintenance field you could understand that sometimes working with old junk sometimes means radical ways of fixing it. You have to understand that the system is extremely old and cant be fixed with this "right now mentality" because you said so. Yes you get brown water once in a blue moon, some more then others. I have only gotten it twice, once was outta the blue and the other time because they had to shut the water off to fix a water hydrant and yes I live in the east end. To me all this hype over 1 brown water issue is kinda pointless. I pay more per year just to fill my pool then people use in thier homes and I don't feel the need to complain like a raving lunatic. The water is safe to drink, even if its brown.
scottstewy123 12/3/2013 2:31:21 PM Report

http://www.sunnewsnetwork.ca/sunnews/politics/archives/2013/12/20131202-135927.html Read that article. The next 5 years our PUC bills will be raised 42 per cent.
scottstewy123 12/3/2013 2:32:18 PM Report

Every one needs to cal David O jam up his phone lines and say NO to energy increase costs
scottstewy123 12/3/2013 2:34:46 PM Report

CALL sorry spelling error. lol .I am so spitting upset that our energy bills going up. This government just does not get it. The higher the costs for us the harder for you and I. It drives business out of Ontario.
scottstewy123 12/3/2013 2:38:24 PM Report

http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/ontario-electricity-prices-set-to-rise-due-to-higher-production-costs-1.1501601 for those on the left .
shju 12/3/2013 2:42:42 PM Report

Well the energy costs have to go up because all thier employee's wages keep going up because of the minimum wage increases..... COL always has to go up.
Beej 12/3/2013 2:59:16 PM Report

The water being brown is only half of the issue, the other half is it is akin to drinking out of a swimming pool.
The only people I know who actually drink it are those who first filter it through a Brita.

Straight from the tap it is nothing short of foul smelling and horrible to the taste.

I was at a local restaurant lately near Color Your World. We ordered our food, the waitress brought us some glasses of ice water, no sooner than she put them on the table we could smell the brutally strong smell of chlorine, we had her remove them as we couldn't bear the smell while trying to enjoy our meal.

This goes on in numerous homes every day since this nightmare began, even to the point that many people's pets turn their nose up at the wreak and won't even drink it.

No doubt the only thing that is going to fix this screw up is a class action law suit, the PUC will never admit they made a really bad choice.
GrammaDingbat54 12/3/2013 3:11:00 PM Report

PUC, edit this article by saying "Will", not should.
shju 12/3/2013 3:47:47 PM Report

There is less chlorine now then before, The only reason you smell it more is because there isn't any more ammonia masking the smell. That great tasting water you claim was just ammonia....
T-pot 12/3/2013 3:58:46 PM Report

shju is right. Ammonia isn't masking the smell anymore.

And Beej. I BEG YOU. Show me where it was THEIR CHOICE to switch the water. I've only seen, about 5 times now, that it was MANDATED for them to change it.

When the government mandates something, you DO NOT have a choice.
Beej 12/3/2013 4:25:17 PM Report

It was their choice to switch to free chlorine instead of the alternative, AND ALL without:

Consulting us.
Informing us of the pros and cons of both ways including accurate facts to back them up.
Letting us have our say which we thought was the best option.

"We believe" is simply not acceptable for making a decision on our behalf on a major undertaking like this.
TFinn 12/3/2013 4:32:53 PM Report

If we all want to be totally honest with ourselves , back when the PUC decided along with the Gov agencies had given the two choices based on the info of the findings from the Gov agencies , I am confident the people would have voted for the change rather than just adding yet more chemicals.
Don�t get me wrong I don�t like that people are experiencing the brown water, however if it is safe and it�s an expected process, before we see the positive results �then that is something we have to endure until it is resolved. In this day and age I can not believe the PUC or Gov are doing something to harm the community, Just being real here �that�s all.
xyz123 12/3/2013 5:39:25 PM Report

finally there are a few people like shju who understand the issue enough to make comments. Second, People should not vote on the water choice, this is what you hire expert consultants to determine for you.
IB-fine 12/28/2013 1:50:12 PM Report

The PUC should also have an automated system that calls the customers in the "brown water areas" to let them know this could be happening.
My year old toilet tank is stained and no CLR doesn't remove the rust colour from inside the tank, and I almost gave my animals that crap to drink! Fortunately I had a full Brita that I filled their water dish with and bottled water on hand for me.
It took running the kitchen tap for over 1/2 hour for this brown colour to disappear. And that only is worth 4 cents? Don't think so!
Comments
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