San Juan Bautista residents were surprised this past week when they turned on the faucets and saw their bath water running brown.
Several residents took to social media, posting photos of bathtubs and glasses filled with brown water or writing posts concerned about the water’s safety on San Juan Bautista’s community Facebook page.
The comments prompted a response from the San Juan Bautista city government, which said the water was not dangerous, and the situation was being addressed by installing an iron manganese treatment plant near one of the city’s existing wells.
The city’s problems with drinking water quality are not recent. A moratorium was put in place in 2016 by the State Water Resource Control Board, Division of Drinking Water because the city’s well water had levels of nitrite that exceeded acceptable levels. According to a letter from the resource control board to the city, at the time the moratorium was put in place, the city was using three wells, two of which were found to have higher than acceptable nitrite levels.
The moratorium was lifted in December 2018, after the city added two wells, Nos. 5 and 6, with acceptable nitrite levels, giving the city a total of three active wells. Interim City Manager Edward Tewes said in an interview that the discolored water is coming from Well 5, which has higher than average iron manganese levels.
Tewes told the Free Lance that the levels are not dangerous, and that the city only activates Well 5 when there is an uptick in water use. In the third week of March temperatures rose and San Juan Bautista residents used more water, which started coming from Well 5. Tewes said another reason for the brackish color was because Well 5 is rarely used, so residual dirt was pushed from the pipes.
Chatter on social media continued through Easter weekend, as residents posted photos of their water to the community page, some complaining their family holiday meals were spoiled. Tewes responded to community complaints with a post on the city’s website.
“The color in the water is from sources which we are addressing. First, Well 5, although compliant with nitrate standards, does have measurable amounts of iron and manganese in the water. Second, when the new wells have to be used, their higher pressure tends to dislodge iron from inside the very old pipes,” wrote Tewes. “The city is installing a special iron/manganese treatment plant on the Well 6 location in order to remove iron from the source of supply. All the city’s wells will be routed through the new treatment plant. We anticipate that the installation of the treatment plant and the completion of the Well 6 upgrades will be completed by the end of May 2019.”
The construction on Well 6 can be seen from Old San Juan Road, That well was purchased from a local farmer and sits on agricultural land.