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What’s in the water at McNary Oaks?

McNary Oaks Mobile Villa
Smell, slime and frequent water outages are a fact of life at McNary Oaks Mobile Villa, residents say. The park’s residents are mostly 55 and older. (File Photo/Keizertimes)

Of the Keizertimes

Residents at the 55-and-up McNary Oaks Mobile Villa say they’ve had water problems long before e.coli was found in the park’s private well.

That’s when they have water at all. Sherrel Thomas, 62, said the water is turned off altogether “a few times a month,” usually around suppertime.

“It might be two hours, it might be half an hour. It might be all night,” said Erma Guthrie, a 93-year-old who has lived in the park for more than 30 years.

“We went and bought a rain barrel,” Thomas said.

This all happened before e.coli – a bacteria likely originating from some sort of fecal matter – was found in their well water. Since March 4, the residents have been on a boil water notice by order of Marion County, meaning water must be boiled before drinking, using for cooking, washing dishes or brushing teeth. A county health official expects the park to be off the boil water notice within a few days after a chlorinating system was added to process the park’s water.

If there’s a bright spot, it’s this: A plan to install meters and start charging residents for water usage has been scuttled. Currently water and sewer are included in lot fees.

The water system operator is Jimmy Figueroa, who pulls double-duty as the park manager. But most of the residents we spoke with felt empathy for him, believing the park’s problems go higher up the ladder.

The park’s authorized representative is Brian Fitterer, according to Oregon Secretary of State business records. Fitterer is listed as either a member or authorized representative for Kennedy Meadows Mobile Home Park, Iris Village Mobile Home Park and Briarwood Estates in Keizer, as well as numerous others throughout Oregon.

Tenants are also thankful for the county’s Department of Environmental Health, whose program supervisor is working with park management to get the e.coli problem under control.

But other problems have been happening for years, resident said.

“I was appalled – totally appalled,” said June Abbott, the Marion and Polk county deputy director for the Oregon State Tenants Association, who visited the park a few days after the boil water notice was distributed.

Carl Preusse, a regional manager for Irvine, Calif.-based Investment Property Group, said he’s not been made aware of the aesthetic water issues, but noted he’s only been overseeing the park since November 2010. He did note the planned metering system won’t be installed.

“A newsletter will be sent out to residents shortly that we have decided not to proceed with the meter system,” Preusse said.

Several park tenants complained that the water smelled of sulfur – like rotten eggs – and leaves dark stains in their faucets and other fixtures. Both Rick Sherman, program supervisor for Marion County Department of Environmental Health, and a well expert the city of Keizer has relied on for its entire existence, say the black “gunk” showing up in filters and on faucets likely isn’t a health hazard. Neither is the sulfur smell. But it doesn’t make the experience more pleasant for residents.

Nadine Worsfold, a 74-year-old park resident, showed us the dark stains that form under a water filter she has on her kitchen faucet. She and others have installed filters between the water line and their home to counter the symptoms – and it’s helped to varying degrees.

Guthrie lives on her Social Security pension and pays a park resident $25 to change  a charcoal filter outside her house. She said they do a pretty good job – at least for the first month or so – of keeping the sulfuric smell and sediment out.

Problem is they’re supposed to last three months, she said.

“To be real effective I have to change it once a month, but I can hardly afford that so I go a little longer than that, sometimes two or three months,” Guthrie said. “But it’s not very pleasant.”

“It’s costing people a lot of money to deal with this, and a lot of them are on fixed income,” said Penny Reed, 59.

Worsfold said the water smells “at all times of the day” to varying degrees. Some residents say the smell depends in part on where in the park a particular lot is.

“When I brush my teeth I have to hold my nose and breath,” Worsfold said.

“I never drink it,” Reed added.

Vivian Wilson, a 76-year-old park resident who has lived there a decade, said you can see sediment settling to the bottom of a jug or glass of water if it’s left sitting out for a few hours. It actually stains jugs and dishwashers, she added.

Both Sherman and Ed Butts, who has been the city’s well engineer since incorporation and for the Keizer Water District before that, said manganese could be a cause of the black stains that residents keep finding. Butts said both iron and manganese are fairly common in local aquifers.

Other possible causes, Butts said, include “iron bacteria” – which can cause “plugging of the well, slime problems in piping or water, reduced capacity and/or taste issues” – or “biofouling,” which can happen when algae, decaying plants and microorganisms build up in wells.

It’s not illegal to have manganese in a public water system, he said, but the city of Keizer does what it can to make sure it’s not in its customers drinking water. He said when he started working with the Keizer Water District in 1978 that higher manganese levels were more common in water served to customers. But he said switching to deeper wells – and abandoning older, shallower ones – helped reduce dramatically the manganese in Keizer’s water. Butts added manganese in water decreases over time as an aquifer is pumped, and older water is replaced with newer water.

Hydrogen sulfide is likely responsible for the rotten egg-like smell, Butts said. It’s saturated in the water as it’s being pumped, but as it comes out the faucet – and the pressure drops dramatically – it’s released into the air.

“That’s the smell people get,” Butts said.

Manganese and hydrogen sulfide can be removed from water using various processes, he said. Getting water from deeper underground sources reduces chances of contamination from all sorts of sources, Butts said.