Beaumont taking steps to investigate brown water source

The Beaumont Water Treatment Plant at 1550 Pine Street in Beaumont. Photo made on July 18, 2020.
source Fran Ruchalski/The Enterprise

Beaumont might be one step closer to solving its brown water issues.

The city is moving forward with a proposal to bring in an outside expert to survey the water system and make recommendations for improvement.

According to Council member Mike Getz, since August 1, the city has fielded approximately 200 calls reporting discolored water. And on Tuesday, Chad Seidel, President of Corona Environmental Consulting LLC, visited the Beaumont City Council meeting to detail how his company might be able to get to the bottom of the problem.

“We were asked to provide some context and perhaps oversight assessment of the water system,” Seidel said. “Our company is basically built to do exactly that.”

The Colorado-based, water-focused consulting firm has worked in more than 30 states and was founded in 2013.

Their process starts with asking contextual questions, Seidel said.

“What has been the operational practice? What have been the plans have been put in place? How have things been operating? What have been the complaints that have been received by staff, from citizens and customers?” he said.

Other questions could include: How are is the system operating? What are the treatment processes? What is going on in the distribution system? What does this mean for water quality?

“Then we’ll come back with a recommendation report, which describes what we found and opportunities to address those going forward to give you the information you need to feel confident you’re on the right path addressing the concerns that have been raised,” Seidel explained. “The schedule is to be pretty direct, and within a few months, we come back with that prepared System Assessment Report.”

But Beaumont Director of Water and Sewer Operations Mike Harris believes the source of the brown water is simple:

“We have a lot of minerals in our water that we pull out of the Neches River,” he said. “These minerals are iron and manganese, mainly — naturally-occurring metallic-based minerals. They’re not harmful. We treat the water with chlorine that oxidizes these minerals. That’s where you get your brown water.”

This diagnosis echoes contextual information Seidel presented to the council.

According to Harris, the city treats the water with polyphosphate, which coats the minerals to keep them from oxidizing. But as the water goes through the distribution system, it ages. The polyphosphate comes off and as the protective coating is lost, the oxidation happens again and the minerals settle on the bottom of the water line. Pressure fluctuations or changes in the direction of the flow of the water stir up the minerals again, resulting in brown water.

Nevertheless, he says it’s perfectly safe water. Beaumont Water and Sewer Operations are responsible to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and every month, they have to test their water for bacteria and prove to the state that the water is potable.

“I tell a lot of people, ‘The water is safe to drink,’” Harris said. “It may not be desirable to drink, but it’s safe to drink.’”

Still the City Council wants to address residents’ aesthetic concerns. Corona’s assessment would cost the city just over $70,000. Fixing the problem would be another endeavor entirely.

“We are focused on assessments. We don’t perform the outcoming services of what needs to be done,” Seidel said. “We just want to identify and point you to the folks that can really be boots on the ground, whether it’s operational changes, or design and construction changes.”

And city staff already is already taking the next steps needed to receive that assessment.

“My staff was putting together the engineering services agreement today,” said Beaumont Public Works and Technology Services Director Bart Bartkowiak. “Once it is signed, then we will have to get the signatures from Corona. I would expect to have it fully executed by next week.”

Seidel cautioned that there likely won’t be a single solution that makes the problem go away.

“It really does take a proactive layered strategy to address,” he said.

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