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Ridge water gets shot of chlorine

SNOQUALMIE _ The city of Snoqualmie has always pointed

with pride to its clear, good-tasting _ and particularly, unchlorinated _

water. Other towns may have to add the chemical to their water systems

to achieve health, clarity and taste standards, but to the best of Public

Works Director Gary Armstrong's recollection, it's never happened here.

However, about six weeks ago the water in the homes of

Snoqualmie Ridge took on a curious taste and smell. When the anomaly didn't

clear up within a few days, the residents got curious _ and a tad nervous _ and

fired off inquiries to the city and the Weyerhaeuser Real Estate

Company (WRECO). Both ultimately responded, determined the cause of

the problem and quickly applied a fix; but not before some of the

homeowners had mulled over the prospects of going to bottled water or even taking

legal action.

The correction involved the injection of chlorine solution into

the Ridge's water system. According to Armstrong, the good news is the

water problems were aesthetic and did not constitute a health risk. They

were not the result of algae or bacterial growth or a basic design flaw in

the system.

"I wouldn't call it a design problem," he commented recently.

"The design is working the way it is supposed to."

The problem was apparently fallout from the Ridge's switch

from spring water _ which supplies the remainder of Snoqualmie _ to well

water and a pumping and storage system, as per the development's original

design plan. The system is designed for an eventual capacity of about

2,000 homes, but right now is working well below capacity, serving only

about 300 homes.

Therein lies the rub. Armstrong said that water stored in the upper

levels of the tank wasn't circulating properly and, as a result, stagnated.

Ridge homeowners discovered the glitch when their taps starting issuing

the funny water.

Homeowner Matt Larson said the residents' direct involvement

began when they started comparing notes on the water via the Internet.

"At one point, someone had sort of posted an innocent question,

`gee, what does everyone think of the water?'" Larson stated last

Monday. "Suddenly there was a barrage of e-mails. It got to the point that

people were irate and talking about legal action."

"I started inquiring with the city and Weyerhaeuser to find out

exactly what was happening and what they were doing to solve the problem,

because it was clear there was a problem," commented Maria

Henrickson, another Ridge resident. "I found

out people had been calling in weeks past and they hadn't been getting

sufficient resolution.

"It seemed to me there was no clear leadership in solving the

problem. That may have not been the case in reality, but it was the impression

I got from talking to people in the city."

Larson eventually bundled together several of the e-mail

messages and sent them to Snoqualmie Ridge General Manager Ed Vetter, Mayor

R. "Fuzzy" Fletcher and the council members. Larson said

Councilman Frank Lonergan, chairman of the public works committee, hit the

Ridge, talked to several families and tasted the water. His committee, the city

and WRECO started working up corrective actions within a few days.

"They got right on it," added Larson.

The chlorine is introduced through a "hypochlorination" system, using

a granular form of the chemical that is put into a solution before injection

and distribution. The amount of chlorine in the solution is expressed in parts

per million, or PPM.

"The (initial) levels were about 1.5 to 2.2 PPM," stated Greg

Kirmeyer, vice president of Economic and Engineering Services, a water

engineering consultant retained by the city to solve the problem. "That's about

half of the maximum level that would be allowed by the state. The

maximum level (of chlorination), under unusual circumstances, is 4.0."

Kirmeyer said they were shooting for a level of about .2 to .5 PPM,

which should prevent a reoccurrence of the problem while limiting the

chlorine taste.

The city of North Bend, by comparison, regularly uses chlorine in

its water. According to city engineer Cliff Cooper, the injected level is 2.2

PPM. Conversely, Sallal Water Association of North Bend does not chlorinate

its water, said the association's Mary Nelson.

Armstrong added the levels are coming down now and admitted

continued chlorination of the Ridge's water would probably be part of

the long-term solution, but declined to speculate whether the city's entire

system would eventually include the chemical.

"It depends on King County Department of Health regulations,

but there are no plans as of now," he stated. "Chlorination is one of those

things like buying car insurance. Since the design of the plant was finished,

I've added chlorination and the complaints have dropped to zero.

"You need to make a distinction: it still does not affect the city's

spring. It's just for the North Well Field, the water for the entire Snoqualmie

Ridge and Salish Lodge."

In response to questions about possible health risks or resident's

concerns about a shift to bottled water, Armstrong said the situation

never deteriorated to that point.

"We never made the proposal," he commented. "We have specific

requirements that we are required to follow from the Department of

Health. If there is a health problem, we're required to put out specific things

like warnings. It was nothing we ever decided on."

As for the Ridge residents, they're just happy that the problem's

been solved. They express satisfaction with its resolution, for the most part.

"We have noticed there seem to be occasional spikes in the

chlorine level," said Larson. "Sometimes

when you turn on the shower you can smell it, but it has improved quite a bit.

My wife Jennifer remarked yesterday that it tasted good."

"The water still smells like chlorine, but the bad algae smell and

taste is gone for the time being," said Henrickson. "But, if it occurs

again, or if the chlorine taste doesn't subside after a while, I imagine we'll

call again. We understand they're trying to solve the problem.

"To be honest, we're still drinking bottled water here," she

concluded. "Although they tell me there are

no health risks, I have some questions about my infant, who developed

what looked like a viral condition.

"My pediatrician said it wasn't, and it may or may not have been

the water, but when I took him off the water the condition subsided. It's

curious."

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