Cold water is a hot item in Plummer.
“We always sell out of it,” said Sandy Howell at the Benewah Market. She buys the two-gallon jugs herself.
Since June, residents have had to buy it in bottles, boil it, or risk stomachaches because of contaminated drinking water. City officials are able to temporarily fix the problem by chlorinating the water supply. But each time, it again tests positive for coliform bacteria after just a few weeks.
Resident Sean Utecht said he and his pregnant wife both have been ill because of it.
“Everybody’s getting fed up,” Utecht said. “I don’t see why we should have to pay our water bill if we can’t drink the water.”
One woman said she won’t let her two children drink tap water, even when it tests OK. If it’s not the bacteria, it’s the chlorine. Her 5-year-old complains of headaches otherwise.
The water tested bad again Oct. 1. City employees say the liquid in Plummer is safe to drink now; the latest warning was lifted Friday. City clerk Donna Spier said no one is sure what causes the contamination, but thinks it comes from small breaks in water lines.
“Even with a pinhole leak, a little bit of dirt can get in,” Spier said. The city has been replacing lines when breaks are found, but they aren’t always obvious.
“Until you end up with water bubbling up, you really don’t know where. We’ve had a lot of problems that way,” Spier said.
Water use was way up this summer, taxing water lines and possibly contributing to breaks. The city measured between 6 million and 7 million gallons going out each month. During the summer months of previous years, the flow stayed between 4 million and 5 million gallons.
The city posts and mails notices when the water tests bad. But it takes a few days to get results returned from the state Division of Environmental Quality in Coeur d’Alene, Spier said. People in Plummer are upset because they aren’t told immediately.
“It’s getting ridiculous,” Utecht said.
In the past, notices weren’t mailed. Instead, they were posted inside the post office. Residents complained they were easy to miss.
Some angry residents have called in and verbally abused Spier. “When (residents) get mad and call me names, that’s tiresome.”
City employees are doing their best to get the word out, she said. Spier and another employee now mail out about 430 notices as soon as results are in.
Still, Spier said she sympathizes with those who are upset.
A lasting fix has yet to be found. Until the problem is corked, bottled water will remain a big business, even when tap water tests OK.
“It is annoying,” Utecht said, adding he has no choice. “Unless you want to go without water.”