St. Paul residents ‘stuck’ with brown but safe water - KPTV - FOX 12

St. Paul residents ‘stuck’ with brown but safe water

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Residents of St. Paul are looking for ways to improve their water, which is safe but discolored due to chemicals used to treat it. (KPTV) Residents of St. Paul are looking for ways to improve their water, which is safe but discolored due to chemicals used to treat it. (KPTV)

An issue with water is dividing residents in a small Oregon town over how to address the issue.

The FOX 12 investigators have uncovered a water quality problem in the town of St Paul. Marion County says the water is technically safe to drink, but it is brown in color and city leaders can't seem to agree on how to fix the problem.

Marion County told FOX 12 that St. Paul is in compliance with state water testing and that those results show there's no health risk to the public. Aesthetically speaking, though, the county says St. Paul has some issues.

People who live in the small town say they're tired of dealing with the disgusting brown water and are now calling on the city to do something to fix it.

FOX 12 caught up with Lee Koch, the town's Public Works Technician, while he was out flushing St. Paul's water lines. He said he does this twice a week, or sometimes even more often, to move stagnant water so homeowners don't wind up with brown tap water.

"This has been the city council's answer to our water quality problem," Koch said. "Our biggest problem is that we don't have filtration to take on all the impurities, which is creating the aesthetic brown, yellowish water with that sulfur smell."

Koch said the town is battling bad wells and that its filtration system is broken. He adds chlorine to the water every day to kill bad bacteria, but when chlorine mixes with manganese and iron, it turns the water brown.

"Since the pump is broken I bought a cheap little timer and I bought a pump that sucks out the chlorine and then I add how much I want and make a fresh batch that's diluted with water," Koch explained. "I'm guessing every day."

Marion County says that despite what the water looks like it's safe to drink, though many in town don't want to drink it or even use the water at all.

Residents say they never know what they're going to get when they turn on their faucets.

Photos of the brown water posted on the city's Facebook page illustrate people's frustrations. Some name Lee Koch as part of the problem, though he contends the issues are the systems that are not working.

 "I'm only one person and I can only do so much," Koch said. "I do the flushing and it helps, but it's only masking the problem. The real problem is over three years of having a treatment system that doesn't work."

City leaders say they've been trying to fix the broken system for years, but it's expensive. They've taken steps to drill a new well eventually, but can't seem to agree on how to address water quality issues in the meantime.

Things came to a head at the town's city council meeting in October. Koch was so fed up by the indecision at that meeting that he left.

"We know what the problem is and we've paid thousands and thousands of dollars to solve the problem,” Koch said to the crowd at the city council meeting. “The city council just has not followed through on what needs to be done."

For now, Koch says he'll just keep flushing the lines. It's all he can do for a town stuck living with brown water.

"The people of St. Paul and the city staff, we're all stuck in the middle," Koch said. "People aren't working together for what's best for citizens of St. Paul and that you can keep on record."

City leaders said they are trying to figure out if they qualify for any emergency funding on a state level to help them address the problem.

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