Dry Summer Causes High Iron Levels in Ithaca Tap Water

"In the middle of June, we first started receiving a couple of turbid, rusty water complaints," said Erik Whitney, water and sewer assistant superintendent for Ithaca's Department of Public Works.

It's something local officials in Ithaca say is not out of the ordinary. Most of the time, those complaints are isolated and dealt with swiftly. But just last week, several Ithaca residents noticed water discoloration from their faucets. Experts blame a lack of rainfall.

"We've got more iron in the water coming in because of a great percentage of groundwater making up the flows into the plant," Whitney said.

Ithaca's main reservoir is low enough that iron is plentiful. Due to construction at the filtration plant, leaders say there aren't enough corrosion inhibitors in place to reduce the levels. But Ithaca has one advantage over other communities with just a stream-fed reservoir or well.

"We're fortunate that we live on a lake, so people that are getting water from Bolton Point, you have a lot more flexibility than people that are getting water from our local stream reservoirs," New York State Water Resources Institute Director Todd Walter said.

Pulling in water from Bolton Point is something the city might resort to if rainfall levels do not increase soon. In the meantime, the city's water department continues to flush the water mains through fire hydrants, with a big reduction in complaints.

Experts say the iron does not pose any health threats, though it can stain laundry and porcelain. They expect clear tap water to return within a week.

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