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Officials knew Redding Elementary’s water had high iron content, but ‘discoloration’ photo hit home

REDDING — When she saw the photo of the discolored water in the Facebook post, first coach Julia Pemberton said she was “horrified” by it even though the condition is found in many parts of the city.

The photo in question – posted to a community social media page on June 17 – shows an inflatable pool filled with dark red and brown water for a field day at Redding Elementary School. The discoloration is the result of high levels of iron in the school’s water system, officials said.

“We have very high iron content in our water in many areas of Redding. City Hall water is not safe to drink,” Pemberton said. “If you leave a cup with water in it, when the water evaporates, you are left with a dark mineral stain, like black.”

School officials have known about the high iron content in Redding Elementary’s water for more than four years; but it wasn’t until a week before the field day and Facebook post that action was taken to fix it.

Area 9 School District superintendent Jason McKinnon recognized ‘the color of the water on a field day,’ according to a letter he recently sent to the Redding Elementary School community. .

He said the district would tackle the project. The school board voted earlier this month to direct its office to prepare a proposal requesting $32,000 of the city’s allocation from federal COVID-19 pandemic assistance to install a new filtration system. water at Redding Elementary School, according to his letter.

“For several years, there has been a high iron content in the water at [Redding Elementary School] which produces a red color. Staff and students drink bottled water, and the board has spent money in our budget each year to clean and flush water storage tanks. said McKinnon, who became superintendent last October.

“We test water quality frequently and provide bottled water if needed,” he added.

At a June 6 Redding Board of Education meeting, McKinnon explained how, in 2017, school officials became aware of water quality issues at Redding Elementary School.

March 2017 correspondence sent to the Redding Board of Education by the state’s Department of Public Health, or DPH, documented “significant deficiencies” in the school’s water filter systems.

“The school had episodes of discolored water and as a result consumed bottled water,” DPH said. “This office thinks part of the problem is that the water is treated after storage.”

“A much more common practice is to treat [the water] before and then store ‘clean’ water in the tank,” DPH said. “This avoids concern that slugs of iron and manganese sediment will periodically be released into the distribution system.”

Based on the information, “a recommendation was made at that time for a new water filtration system,” McKinnon told the Redding Board of Education earlier this month.

“I expect the project to be completed this summer and we will test the water quality before the start of the school year,” he said.

Redding public health officer Douglas Hartline said on Wednesday that the high iron levels were “natural” and said the water in the schools was “treated with iron removal units and it had been going through filters for a long time”.

“The water is drinkable,” he said. “Whether they use it or not is entirely up to them.”

Chris Parkin, chair of the Redding Board of Education and member since 2017, said in an email Wednesday, “The iron content of RES is a known issue, and the board has authorized the administration to seek funds to address it sooner. this month.

He said he couldn’t say how long ‘iron content’ at school has been a ‘known issue’, adding: ‘I don’t know without researching the issue and I don’t want to to guess”.

“[Redding Elementary School] has used bottled water exclusively for drinking and cooking for several years and will continue to do so,” he added. “I don’t know the health department’s view on treatment…and I can’t comment on what makes the water safe or unsafe.”

A “known issue”

According to meeting minutes from the Redding Board of Education, school officials became aware of water quality issues in 2017 when they hired a consulting firm, Leggette, Brashears & Graham. John Read College.

The Redding Board of Education’s Facilities Planning Committee reviewed the company’s final analysis in August 2018 and “advised that remedial action be considered against the costs/benefits of continued water use in bottle”. It also “recommended a professional assessment of the domestic water piping to assess the potential for corrosion-related problems and treatment options,” according to the committee meeting minutes.

The consultants found that the wells at both schools were contaminated with high levels of sodium and chloride which the engineers said were likely the result of road salt, according to the minutes of the meeting.

Obtained by the News-Times, a summary of Redding Primary School’s 2018 water quality report shows the consultancy firm found that iron levels in drinking water exceeded levels that affect its aesthetics, but did not reach the limits that would make the water undrinkable.

The analysis also indicated that “turbidity, iron, and manganese are depositing in the 10,000 gallon atmospheric storage tank, which required quarterly cleaning.” He also recommended adding “water treatment equipment to reduce turbidity, iron and manganese”.

Based on the investigation, the Redding School Board hired Ron Black of Watertown-based Water Systems Solutions and Designs Inc. as the school district’s “water system supplier” in December 2019.

According to meeting minutes, Black maintained the water systems for several districts, including the one used at Joel Barlow High School. Nearly a year after being hired, Black, who did not return a request for comment, presented an analysis of water system design at Redding Elementary and John Read Middle School.

In it, he “strongly” advised that a “chlorination injection system” be installed at the college to inactivate microorganisms, including bacteria and viruses, and recommended that the school district drill new wells and finance “quality and yield tests” on existing wells.

At both schools, Black added, the design of the shafts was found to be “inconsistent with current codes and poses potential safety hazards to technicians and personnel servicing the equipment,” according to the minutes.

Later work at the college found a solution to the water quality issues without requiring a new filtration system, but long-term recommendations to address the high iron content at the primary school were not taken into account, which resulted in short-term costs.

Recent budget documents for Redding Elementary and John Read Middle School show at least $35,000 was allocated in the 2021-22 school year for water quality items.

Proposed figures for Redding Elementary School’s budget for this school year include $7,600 for its “water system operation contract”; $8,900 for “bottled water and supplies,” $3,600 for “water system repairs,” and $2,200 for “water testing.”

At John Read Read Middle School, this year’s budget includes line items of $7,200 for ‘Bottled Water and Water Cooler Rentals’, $3,900 for ‘Water System Operator’. school water; and, with a detailed caveat of a “possible increase needed” to a $2,200 item for “water testing”.

ARPA request in progress

Pemberton said she was “not pointing fingers” about the water quality issue at Redding Elementary School. But criticism of the city for not supporting capital projects to improve schools is unfair, she said. Neither city voters nor the Board of Finance have “ever turned down an investment project that improved water quality in a school,” she said.

“Everybody likes to point the finger at the city and what you see on Facebook is, well, the Board of Finance ‘nickels and dimes’ the schools, and that’s just inaccurate,” Pemberton said. “If these issues are not presented by the school board to the city for resolution, we cannot resolve them.”

“It’s the school board’s job to adopt a capital plan for their schools. This would include addressing any water issues that require capital funding,” she added. “That is solely within their purview.”

For now, the school board plans to pursue a new filtration system for Redding Elementary School, with a request to draw $32,000 from Redding’s allocation from federal pandemic relief funding.

The city received $2.7 million from the federal government under the US American Rescue Plan, or ARPA.

As of June 2, a total of $462,567 has already been approved for six projects, including two submitted by the Redding Board of Education for $30,000 to support the outdoor learning space at John Read Middle School, known as the name Project COOL, and $40,000 to repave a recreation area outside Redding Elementary School.

Seven other applications recommended for approval by the Board of Selectmen total $503,489, including a school district proposal to use $39,922 in ARPA funding for a “Region 9 HVAC tower,” according to city documents.

The Redding School District has other projects it hopes to submit as part of the city’s ARPA review, but McKinnon told the school board that the elementary school’s water filtration system is the most “ready to use”.