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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane Valley trailer park residents could go a year without clean drinking water

Kathy Schlenker, who lives in the Pinecroft mobile home park in Spokane Valley, drives through the area Thursday. The residents there have been without clean water since July 3. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Kathy Schlenker, who lives in the Pinecroft mobile home park in Spokane Valley, drives through the area Thursday. The residents there have been without clean water since July 3. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Kathy Schlenker never realized how much water a single person uses in a day, until she had to start thinking of it by the bottle.

Schlenker, a 67-year-old retired mental health counselor, is one of hundreds of Pinecroft Mobile Home Park residents who have had a boil order on their water for more than three months.

E. coli was detected in the Spokane Valley trailer park’s well in July, and the engineering firm and a contractor hired to solve the problem might not finish a fix until next summer.

Schlenker used to shower, wash her face and clean her home with the water from the park. Now she uses disposable wipes for almost everything. She showers at her daughter’s apartment, and gives her son and pets bottled water to drink.

Once or twice a week, she goes to the mobile home park’s main office to pick up one or two more packs of bottled water. Sometimes she delivers it to her neighbors instead, some of whom are disabled and have trouble picking up water themselves.

“It’s been hard for me,” she said. “It’s a lot of stress.”

Schlenker stopped working about 10 years ago due to medical issues, and said she hoped to spend her retirement in a nicer home, with a fenced yard for her dogs. But she doubts she’ll be able to sell her trailer anytime soon.

“If I could, I would move out of here, but nobody wants to buy a trailer where you have to boil your water,” she said.

While recent water tests haven’t shown E. coli in Pinecroft’s water, the trailer park has never been able to identify the source of the contamination. As a result, state officials have required management to fix the water system.

In the meantime, residents still need to boil water they use before cooking or drinking it. According to an E. coli advisory from health officials, people should avoid brushing their teeth with contaminated water but can bathe in it.

Dorothy Tibbetts, the regional manager for the Eastern Region Office of Drinking Water, said Pinecroft had a few options to address the water issue, including drilling a new well, hooking up to a nearby water system or installing a 4-log chlorine treatment system. The company opted to build a chlorine treatment system, but needed to hire an engineer and go through an approval process before they can build it.

“It takes time no matter which option they choose,” Tibbetts said. “This is not unusual.”

She said well contamination is far harder to resolve than other types of contamination, and can be more expensive and time consuming. Officials from the Office of Drinking Water inspected the well, but were not able to determine the cause of the contamination. Tibbetts said some common causes of contamination are an old well, a poorly constructed well and issues with nearby septic systems.

It’s not the first time Pinecroft has had a water contamination issue.

According to The Spokesman-Review archives, E. coli was found in Pinecroft’s water in 2001, but it was resolved in a few weeks. Tibbetts said she had not heard of any other recent contamination issues at Pinecroft, and none had been reported in the last five years.

Steve Crooks, regional manager for Pinecroft, said the park has gone through about 1,000 bottles of water a week and leaves pallets of water bottles in front of the management office for residents to pick up. Crooks said the engineering team the company has hired should submit their design for a treatment system next week. It then has to go through a 30-60 day review process. After it’s approved, they can begin working with a contractor to build a new chlorine treatment system.

“We’re not dragging our feet,” he said. “The sooner, the better.”

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