Sweet Home residents sound alarm on water quality

Sweet Home residents have noticed that their tap water is a little different – it tastes like bleach and is colored yellow, they say.

The change comes after the Green Peter Reservoir deterioration, and city officials believe this is the cause.

At Sweet Home you will find the region’s only designated sleeping space for people who are actively self-medicating with alcohol and drugs.

Shelly Menva noticed back in September that her tap water wasn’t clear. She takes a bath almost every evening and the color started to change.

“It’s a dirty yellow color. It’s metallic and tastes like bleach,” she said.

That nightly routine has stopped, Menva said, and she now buys bottled water, even though city officials say it’s unnecessary and announced Monday, Nov. 6, that the water was safe for consumption.

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Menva said the discoloration only appeared to be visible with a higher amount of water, so she believes some people may not have noticed it right away. You can’t see the color when you shower or wash the dishes, she said.

But more and more residents are actually becoming aware. A post on the Sweet Home Community Facebook page brought out several concerned community members.

Bathing water.jpg

Sweet Home resident Shelly Menva noticed her bath water had a strange yellow tinge.

Photo courtesy of Shelly Menva

“I wonder if it’s safe,” Menva said.

Menva doesn’t think it’s a problem with her pipes or even her neighborhood on 49th Avenue because other people in Sweet Home have the same problem, she said.

Across town, on 18th Avenue, Cheyenne Hudson noticed the same thing. Since September, she said, she noticed that the bath water was a light green color. She first noticed it when she was bathing her daughter.

About five other people she spoke to noticed the same thing, said Hudson, who also stopped drinking tap water.

“I just don’t know what’s in the water, but I don’t want my daughter sitting in it, whatever it is,” she said.

City officials say they know.

The color change is due to the vegetation at Green Peter Reservoir, City Manager Kelcey Young said by phone. Because there is less water at the reservoir, the vegetation is more concentrated, she said.

“It exhibits a tint caused by vegetable tannins which we believe is due to the subsidence of the Green Peter Reservoir,” said a press release from Sweet Home City Council on Monday, November 6.

Young believes the decline of Green Peter Reservoir is leading to more runoff into Foster Lake, where the city gets its water supply.

From June onwards, the Green Peter reservoir was lowered to a historically low level. The operation was conducted with the intent of supporting the survival of migrating endangered salmon species, spring chinook and steelhead salmon.

Four reservoirs – including Green Peter – have been abandoned to improve the passage of migratory wild juvenile salmon through a court order.

The public became aware of the practice last month when thousands of kokanee, another but not endangered species of salmon, were found dead south of the reservoir.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the site, determined her death was a response to a change in water pressure known as “barotrauma” associated with the subsidence.

However, the recent change in water color was due to vegetation, not the deceased fish, which were not collected, Young said. Nothing like this has ever happened in the past.

Young couldn’t say for sure that the downside is the reason, but she believes it is.

Regardless, the water is safe and drinkable, Young said. City workers have put in long hours, working until 4 a.m. on the problem and monitoring the water, “testing it virtually non-stop,” she added.

When she answered a reporter’s call, she said, she had just returned from a meeting on Monday to talk about Sweet Home’s water.

“We take this extremely seriously,” Young said. The water has a chlorine taste because workers have to put more chlorine in it to make sure it is safe, she said.

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According to the news release, the city is in contact with the Army Corps of Engineers.

Young promised that the city would notify residents if there were any changes to water quality.

Only a handful of people have complained to the city about the water, Young said, and one of those came from someone who ended up having a problem with the home’s water heater.

The complainants live between 44th and 49th avenues, Young said. She hopes residents will contact the city if they notice a problem with their water so they can better track water discoloration.

Editor’s note: This article has been edited to correct street names.

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