ALIQUIPPA, Pa. (KDKA)– What’s going on with the water in Aliquippa?
Hundreds of residents say it’s brown, murky and stinks,
And a growing number of them think it’s toxic.
They recently filled a meeting of the Municipal Water Authority of Aliquippa and demanded answers.
“Don’t lie to people that it’s safe when it’s not. You test at places that don’t exist. You test at places that have never been tested. And you test at your distribution center before it goes to our corroded pipes”, Aliquippa resident Megan Smith told the board.
Resident Jane Flara says she’s been dealing with dirty water at her home for 30 years.
She now has clean water, but she says it’s only because she bought a reverse osmosis system, which filters contaminants out of the public water supply as it comes into her home.
“It’s the only thing that saved us from the dirty water”, says Flara.
Another resident, Renee Plevel, refuses to drink the water and hates bathing in it.
“We always have a ring around our tub. It looks like you’re a dirty person, but it’s just from the water”, says Plevel.
In addition to sediment regularly left behind in the bathtub, she says the water has also stained the tub, as well as her toilet and her clothing.
Plevel says she’s also frustrated with the answers she gets when she calls the water authority to ask why the water is the way it is.
“They say they’re flushing the hydrant or there’s a break. But that can’t be the case every week for 18 years”, says Plevel.
So why is the water brown, and is it safe?
KDKA was invited to go inside the Municipal Water Authority of Aliquippa to get answers.
Matthew Mottes also wanted answers.
That’s why he volunteered to join the water authority’s board a few years ago and now chairs it.
“To be honest with you, the reason I got on this board is because I couldn’t take what was going on anymore”, says Mottes.
He says he’s cleaned up the operation since taking over, and now defends the water authority.
“They can check our testing, check our results and check with the DEP. They’ll see that we do everything 100 percent by the book. Our water is clean and it’s safe to drink”, says Mottes.
Residents still worry it’s not.
They claim the water is contaminated with iron and manganese, which they say is what’s causing it to be brown and have a metallic smell and taste.
However, a 2018 report from the PA Department of Environmental Protection found no violations in the water authority’s samples.
The report also said the samples did not contain levels of iron or manganese that worried inspectors.
But residents claimed they didn’t trust the samples the water authority sent.
Mottes says, “So we actually contacted the DEP. We invited them out, and we took samples from different parts of town in the presence of the DEP”.
Mottes sent KDKA that new report from the DEP, dated October 3, 2019.
The inspector recorded 0.031 milligrams per liter of iron and 0.404 milligrams per liter of manganese.
The state says that’s an acceptable level of iron, but more than the recommended level of manganese.
However, late today, the DEP told KDKA another round of testing found that the manganese levels are now within acceptable limits.
The water authority’s General Manager, Robert Bible, admits there are problems, but says rumors in the community don’t help.
“We’re definitely getting portrayed in a negative light. A lot of the things that are being said out there are just flat out not true”, says Bible.
In a renewed effort to fix the problems, the water authority just spent $500,000 dollars to clean the collector wells for the first time in 20 years.
But those wells are just the tip of the iceberg.
That same 2018 report from the DEP revealed 54% of Aliquippa’s pumped out water is unaccounted for, apparently leaking into the ground.
And losing more than half of the water they’re pumping out costs the authority dearly.
Bible says he knows more work has to be done and has a list of improvement projects, including an entirely new $12.5 million water plant.
“I think that’s going to eliminate the issue totally”, says Bible.
The new plant is in the design phase now, and they’ll soon start getting permits for it.
Residents say the idea of a new plant is great, but worry about what happens when clean water travels through the authority’s corroded pipes.
Bible says replacing all of the water lines in the city would take decades, but he says the authority plans to continue replacing a few miles of water lines each year.
All told, Bible says the water authority plans to spend $30 million on projects by 2023.
It’s a hefty price tag, but one the authority is willing to pay in order to give residents peace of mind.