City of Ithaca to Push Water Conservation as Reservoir Dwindles

The amount of water it's taking in is less than or equal to the amount that's going out...

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(Eric Norris / Flickr)
(Eric Norris / Flickr)

By Michael Smith via The Ithaca Voice, 7/27/16

ITHACA, NY - Many people in the City of Ithaca continue to be plagued by discolored, sometimes foul-smelling water. But there may be a more serious issue with Ithaca's water supply: it's starting to run a little low.

According to Ithaca Chief of Staff Dan Cogan, in the worst case scenario, if we don't see significant rainfall or a significant decrease in water usage, the reservoir could be drained in as few as 30 days.

Cogan explained that reservoir is currently hovering just below the equilibrium point. That is, the amount of water it's taking in is less than or equal to the amount that's going out.

Over the next ten days, we're predicted to see only about 1 inch of rain. To put that in context, the approximately 0.7 inches of rain we saw earlier in the week only gave the reservoir about a day's worth of water. Since the situation on the supply side isn't looking good, it will be up to residents to conserve water and lower demand.

Cogan says the city is looking into contingency plans should the drought persist. They are also planning to officially roll out a statement officially calling for residents to conserve water and offering tips on how best to do so.

"We're hopeful that people will rise to the challenge," Cogan said. "We're about to enter the traditional dry season in Ithaca -- August -- so we don't know how long it will be."

Discolored water woes

Meanwhile, there are still a number of residents across the city who are still dealing with the discolored water, from light yellow discolorations to deep browns and reds.

"There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to which ares are being affected," Cogan said, though he later noted that some areas of the city with older water mains might experience more persistent issues.

Still, there does seem to be progress being made. When The Voice reported on the water issue earlier in July, Assistant Superintendent of Water and Sewer Erik Whitney said his department was getting over 100 calls a day on the issue.

Cogan says that that number is now much lower, often down to just 2 or 3 calls a day, though it had spiked up to between 10 and 20 in the past couple of days.

That may not be much comfort to those who still have nothing but dirty-looking water to drink. However, the official stance is that the water is still safe to drink. Tests show that levels of chlorine and microbials are where they should be, Cogan said. Tests continue to be performed on a weekly basis.

Iron and manganese, which are the primary causers of the discoloration, are considered safe to drink -- if not particularly pleasant to drink or look at.

Still no lead

It was also clarified (again) that color issue is not related to lead in the water. The reason that water is discolored is because the reservoir is drawing on groundwater, which is richer in iron and manganese. Lead is not typically found in groundwater, and the most recent tests of the city's water supplies showed almost undetectable levels of lead.

However, he did note that some people may have lead-bearing pipes in their own homes which may cause lead contamination.

The city water treatment plant continues to work on the chemical treatment angle, trying to get as much of the iron and manganese as possible to settle out before water is sent out.

"Our water source is continuing to be a moving target," Cogan said. "We know it's frustrating for residents, it's frustrating to us, too."

Cogan continues to recommend that people call water and sewer and have the hydrant in there area flushed, as that usually seems to solve the problem.

He encouraged any residents who have tried to get help from water and sewer but have had no luck to let him know about the issue so he can help resolve it.

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