News Feature | March 13, 2017

Stuck Valve Turns Town's Water Hot Pink

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

pink water reg new (1)

Residents of a small Canadian town awoke to an unpleasant surprise this week: hot pink tap water.

A Facebook group posted this photo of the water, with a bit of advice for its readers: Don’t drink it.
Officials noted that the problem never presented a public health risk. And “health officials recommended residents run their taps until the water is clear before using,” CBS News reported.

The mayor of Onoway, Alberta, apologized to residents over the incident. He said it appears that a valve may have malfunctioned, allowing potassium permanganate “to get into our sump reservoir and thereby into the town’s water distribution system,” according to a statement.

Officials from the province are headed to Onoway to investigate the incident. The water system responded to the issue by flushing the system

“Unfortunately, our distribution system is a loop system which makes it much more difficult to control and isolate the water flow,” the mayor’s statement said.

A hot topic in the community is whether the town did enough to communicate about the incident. The mayor addressed that issue with an apology.

“Could the Town have done a better job of communicating what was going on yesterday to our community — absolutely, without a doubt. And we do apologize for that. This is a situation we can certainly learn from and develop a strategy for better response and communication should we ever face the same or similar situation in the future,” he said.

One upside is that it appears the water system has support from its ratepayers.

“At this time, I would like to recognize and thank those who have stopped in or called inquiring about the facts, and I would specifically like to thank those businesses who have dropped off lunch and treats for our staff,” the mayor wrote.

Potassium permanganate, the suspected culprit in Otoway, is usually added to treatment processes at the raw water intake, according to the U.S. EPA's water treatability database. It is generally followed by conventional treatment or granular activated carbon, membrane filtration, and chlorine disinfection. Per the database:

Permanganate is a strong oxidant used primarily to control taste and odors, remove color, control biological growth in treatment plants, control zebra mussels in intake structures and pipelines, and remove iron and manganese. Permanganate can also be used for controlling the formation of trihalomethanes and other disinfection byproducts by oxidizing precursors and reducing the demand for other disinfectants. Permanganate has also shown to lower coagulant dose requirements and improve clarification.

Image credit: "Water droplets," magic momentz © 2013, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/