Marta Molina first noticed something was wrong with her water when she went to drink from the glass by her bedside.
It smelled sulfuric, like rotten eggs.
“It just wasn’t pleasant,” said Molina, a Duke Park resident and one of 21 people who have complained about their water since July.
Tests show the culprit was low chlorine. Chlorine helps maintain disinfection throughout the water system and reduces bacteria, said Vicki Westbrook, assistant director of the city’s Department of Water Management.
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Bunmi Fatoye-Matory, who lives in Trinity Park, had concerns about her water after it smelled earthy. The city tested it July 7. Someone from the city called her and said the chlorine level was low but that the bacteria levels were safe. However, she requested the written results from the July 17 report.
She was concerned when she read her water “does not meet drinking water requirements,” in the report.
Westbrook said the wording isn’t as “as explanatory as it should be.” While the chlorine level wasn’t where it needed to be, the tests indicated the water was safe.
“The water is not where we want it to be, but it is your choice whether you want to drink it,” Westbrook said.
Since July 1, the city has received 21 complaints, Westbrook said. About a handful of those have been linked to low chlorine, Westbrook said. An earthy smell in water is also caused by an increase of algae in the primary water supplies – Lake Michie and Little River. The increase in algae is a seasonal issue often experienced during warm weather, Westbrook said.
It’s unclear whether the instances of low chlorine are related, Westbrook said. And the city hasn’t determined what is causing the problem.
Some of the other homes with low chlorine were near Trinity Park and Duke Park neighborhoods, Westbrook said. Others were in different areas in the city.
Low chlorine levels can be created by problems at individual homes or work that is done on underground water pipes when a valve is not returned to the correct position. That may cause water to circulate in a loop rather than having fresh water introduced regularly, Westbrook said. In general, the city tests water that leaves its two water treatment plants daily, along with pre-selected spots throughout the city weekly. Results have indicated that chlorine levels are normal, Westbrook said.
The city has flushed the water supply from pipes near those homes by opening fire hydrants and letting water flow, Westbrook said. It has also been investigating whether someone didn’t turn on or off a valve properly after work.
“They haven’t found anything to date,” Westbrook said.
Fatoye-Matory said she posted the results of her test on the Trinity Park listserv, and about six people have contacted her with concerns about their water.
Molina reported her water concerns to Durham One Call about a month ago, she said. She was initially advised to run her water for a long period of time.
She gave the water two weeks to improve – drinking bottled water in the interim – and then called One Call back.
On Aug. 12, a city employee visited Molina’s home and took samples of her water. He shook one around in a kit and told her on the spot that her “chlorine was low,” Molina said. On Wednesday, she received verbal communication that her water was safe – results from testing that analyzes more than just chlorine levels.
After the city flushed the pipes, she said, the smell improved.
On Wednesday the city tested Fatoye-Matory’s chlorine levels and said they were normal.
“They said it was OK,” she said Wednesday, but added, “It would be reassurance to see it in writing, to say the least.”
When to report
If you have concerns about your water, take a sample and let it settle for a moment. Sometimes air bubbles in the line will make water initially appear cloudy.
The water should be clear, odorless and taste clean and fresh.
To report concerns call Durham One Call, 919-560-1200.