Explanation on water should have come sooner

Posted 7/4/19

Well, a member of the Jasper Water and Sewer Board took exception to the column last week about my viewpoints on the taste and smell of Jasper’s water of late, which many people have been upset …

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Explanation on water should have come sooner


Well, a member of the Jasper Water and Sewer Board took exception to the column last week about my viewpoints on the taste and smell of Jasper’s water of late, which many people have been upset about. 

The member emailed this statement to me: "Why would someone in your position make comments about our water that suggest we might should not trust the Jasper Waterworks and Sewer Board. I know you have no idea of what our board does to insure that we have safe and clean drinking water. I think the Mountain Eagle can do a lot better than you.” 

Well, I’m sure they could do better than me to sort this out. That’s why Jeffery Winborne did it for both of us. 

After some reluctance due to instructions by lawyers, Jason Langley, the general manager of the waterworks, explained to Winborne that a number of areas, separate from the spill, are suffering from a significant algal bloom that occurred in May, which meant that the waterworks can’t feed enough chlorine dioxide to help with the taste and odor. It was so bad that they went away from the usual method in recent years of chlorine dioxide back to raw chlorine, which is a great disinfectant but, because it actually kills cells, leaves a different taste. It is not known for sure if the Tyson spill or the heavy rainfalls earlier in the year had more effect in causing the algae problem, which, actually, has been found currently across Alabama and even in Columbus, Ga.

Moreover, Dr. Alan Wilson of Auburn University, who is working with Jasper officials since last week, told Winborne that six utilities are reaching out to him and others may be struggling with this as well. Additionally, what water systems are using are removing the algae from the treated water, and it is not showing up in that water. He stressed the type water with the taste and odor problems is not harmful to Jasper customers, saying they are throwing everything they can at the problem. 

The compounds "may be unpleasant to taste but they’re not going to harm anyone,” he said, adding this is only a temporary problem that will go away. He confirmed it is not unique and is going on in other parts of Alabama and the Southeast. 

And that was the type of thing I wanted to hear before I wrote my column, but the Langley and Wilson comments were not ready for me in time before it was on the page. Although I mentioned Langley had already said they were not seeing anything unusual, they were making tests and he sounded conclusive that no bacteria was in the water. I came down much harder on the state and Tyson (which deserve a licking), but it was hard to ignore Jasper’s situation, too, although we didn’t have a lot of understandable details. And, frankly, you can tell I struggled what to say at that point. 

“I’m not sure what to make about the Jasper water. I want to believe the water works officials, as I’ve had good dealings with them in the past,” I said. “At this point officials need to provide more testing results, or perhaps do more extensive temporary testing, to calm the public’s fears or confirm what is suspected.” I said the public might want to do their own tests.

Now we know more, and I feel a lot better about it. And that is what should have been explained from the start, as it makes sense once you put in laymen’s terms. And if you think after Tyson and some of the other environmental disasters we have seen that the media is just going to fawn over a government agency or local public utility and just take them flat on their word after half of town is already in an uproar, I'm afraid you're mistaken. If we had all this information to begin with, this whole situation would have been calmed much quicker.

But if you leave things as confusing as they did, you are going to get this type of mess. If we just said, “The lawyers don’t want them to speak. Alright then,” we would have never have found out what we did. I think Winborne (and Publisher James Phillips, who set up the interview after a few good conversations with Langley) gets a lot of credit for pushing to get what we know. Board members should be thanking them instead of trying to find a scapegoat for their problems. 

Ed Howell is the Daily Mountain Eagle's news editor.