Cloudy water not a health concern

Condition caused by calcified screen that traps air in the water

Posted: Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Fizzy, milky-white water pouring from Juneau faucets over the last week may not be appetizing, but it's not a health concern, according to Grant Ritter, Juneau's water utility superintendent.

"There's air in the water. It's just a visual effect that's not pleasing because everybody likes to see nice clear water," Ritter said. "We maintain our testing schedule and the water has always been bacterially sound."

Ritter said several hundred people have called to report the cloudy water, which is the color of skim milk, and hisses in a glass. The water clears a few minutes after it is drawn from the tap.

The color and hiss are caused when air becomes "entrained" in the water, Ritter said. The air became entrained because a well pump in Last Chance Basin was working to capacity, and the screen the ground water is pulled through has become calcified with minerals, Ritter said.

"The water screen became encrusted, so you can't get the flow of water through the screen, so you get a vortexing, a whirlpool effect," Ritter explained. He said the whirlpool effect infuses the water with air.

Juneau consumes an average of 4 million to 5.5 million gallons of water every day from wells in Last Chance Basin and Salmon Creek. Last week Salmon Creek was offline, and workers were replacing one of the Last Chance Basin pumps. A remaining calcified pump had to handle more water, exacerbating the cloudiness problem, Ritter said.

The calcified pump was subject to an additional burden because of the increased demand for water, Ritter said.

Water use peaks in the summer due to cruise ship needs, and increased use of water for things like car washing and gardening, he said. Summer consumption can be as much as 7 million gallons a day.

With the new pump installed, Ritter expects the cloudy water problem to clear up within the week.

"It's starting to let up now in some areas, it was a 5-to-10-day ordeal, but by the end of this week, everything this side of Auke Bay should be fine," he said.

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