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Would You Drink Yellow Water? St. Augustine Replaces Rusty Pipes

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Anneliese Delgado
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It’s no secret that St. Augustine is old. The city boasts its ancient history and culture, but its infrastructure is also aging. Some of St. Augustine’s water pipes are almost a century old. The problem is the inside of the pipes are so corroded that some of the rusty sediment actually ends up in the water. This gives the water in some neighborhoods of St. Augustine a red or yellow tint.

Will Gresham is all too familiar with this problem. He is the owner and manager of St. Johns Quality Water, a water filtration business, and he has been installing water treatment equipment in and around St. Augustine for more than 13 years.   

The city has been trying to combat the discoloration problem for years, but tap water still runs yellow and red in some parts of the city, Gresham said.  

Efforts to improve the water clarity can sometimes cause more problems for residents.

“(The city) will super chlorinate, and run high levels of chlorine through the lines, and a lot of iron from the pipes winds up in the customer’s homes,” Gresham said.  

Laurie Clingan-Daracs is one of Gresham's customers. Even though, she has been using a water filtration system in her house for 6 years, she said she still has issues with the water.

“Whenever I shower, my eyes become inflamed,” she said.

Clingan-Darac has lived in St. Augustine for ten years. The water in other cities never irritates her eyes, but when she showers at home, she said her eyes will be red for hours.

Eye irritation is not the only problem that stems from this water, which contains high levels of iron.  

“Over a period of time, all this iron is coming into the house,” Gresham said. “It’s ruining their clothes. It’s actually clogging some of the lines (to) the ice makers and so on and so forth.”

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Credit Anneliese Delgado
Will Gresham inspects the water filtration system at a client's house.

Gresham thinks the city is doing all it can to improve the water, but said there is no quick fix.

“There are miles upon miles of pipe that has to be replaced,” he said. “The (problem) is not actually with the city water treatment, it is with the aging pipes here in St. Augustine.”  

The city started a three part process to improve the water.  

First, they added chemicals to try to stop the corrosion. Next, they used high water pressure to flush the pipes and clean them. Finally, some other pipes were replaced completely.

“Replacing water mains is the most expensive option, but really it is the long term correction,” said St. Augustine’s Public Works Director Martha Graham.  

The amount of complaints about the water has decreased since the city started the three part process, Graham said.  

“We analyze that to replace all our metal pipes would be $16 million,” Graham said.  

This is not a problem that was created over night, Graham said, and it’s not going to be an overnight fix, either.  The pipe replacement project is expected to last another 10 years.

The water in St. Augustine meets the Environmental Protection Agency’s requirements for safe drinking, according the Graham.  

“It’s more of an aesthetic, rather than a health issue,” she said.

When it comes to aesthetics, not many people want to drink colored water.

You can follow WJCT on Twitter @WJCTJax.