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WNCN Investigates: Raleigh neighborhood has a 'nasty water' problem

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Water contaminated with manganese is flushed from a distribution line in the Jordan Woods neighborhood. Water contaminated with manganese is flushed from a distribution line in the Jordan Woods neighborhood.
Even after going through a filtration system, the water in the Jordan Woods neighborhood is still the color of iced tea. Even after going through a filtration system, the water in the Jordan Woods neighborhood is still the color of iced tea.
RALEIGH, N.C. -

A Wake County neighborhood has a filthy problem with their drinking water.

"We're paying and we shouldn't have to pay for this," said Eve Hilton, holding up a bottle of water that looked more like a cola. "It's unacceptable. We've got nasty water."

The Hiltons moved into the Jordan Woods neighborhood, south of Raleigh, eight months ago. At the time, their water seemed to be coming out clear; but over time they noticed it was staining their appliances.

"We started noticing just a couple months after moving in that water was starting to smell a little swampy," Hilton explained.

The Hiltons said they checked the water filter that came with the house and what they found is nothing short of disgusting. Black sludge poured from the filter, filled with tiny bits of sediment.

"It's destroying a four-phase, 6-month filter in a week to 2-week period of time," explained Toby Hilton. "At $30 a pop to change out the filters that should be lasting 6 months."

When the Hiltons called their water company for answers, CWS Systems, which is operated under Utilities, Inc., sent someone to flush the distribution line from the street.

When the water came out, you would think the neighborhood struck oil. But that wasn't the end to their problems.

WNCN Investigates found the dirty water is a neighborhood-wide problem.

"The water has gotten to the point where we're not able to drink it," said Pam Strickland, who lives a few houses down from the Hiltons. Strickland said her family uses a portable water filter, and even that is beginning to stain.

"It's eating up the chrome of our fixtures," she explained. "We're going to have to buy a new shower head soon because it's just eating it up."

Across the street from them is Terry Ragsdale, who described his water as looking "like tea."

"The water out here is terrible," said Ragsdale, a City of Raleigh firefighter. "It's left stains around the toilets. The tubs are permanently stained."

WNCN confirmed with five other homeowners in the subdivision that they've all had problems with the water. And Ragsdale said he has been trying to get the problem in Jordan Woods solved for years.

Utilities, Inc. said the problem is that the community well that provides water to the 35 homes in Jordan Woods has a 3,000-gallon tank that the company admits is too small for that size community. Still, when asked about the water, Utilities, Inc. said the issues were secondary aesthetic problems, but it ensured the water was safe to drink.

The state Division of Water Quality also confirmed the water taken from Jordan Woods passed all health standards, and that the discoloration and smell fell under secondary water standards.

Primary standards are legally enforceable and limit contaminates that can affect public health. While secondary standards deal with the smell, taste and color, and are not mandatory.

While the Environmental Protection Agency does set limits as guidelines, the state took those guidelines one step further by adopting its own limits for manganese and iron.

The EPA defines Secondary Drinking Water Standards as "non-enforceable guidelines regulating contaminants that may cause cosmetic effects (such as skin or tooth discoloration) or aesthetic effects (such as taste, odor, or color) in drinking water."

Because the standards for the Jordan Woods water pertain only to "cosmetic" effects and it does not pose a health risk, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources said there is no reason to investigate unless the department receives a complaint.

"Because it's not a health-based water quality standards, there's really nothing to trigger us to go out and investigate unless we get a complaint from a customer," explained Sarah Young, with DENR. Young said this is the first complaint the state has heard from the the Jordan Woods neighborhood.

Levels of manganese were 3x higher

Utilities, Inc. is required to submit its own test results for secondary standards to the state every three years.

WNCN Investigates pulled those reports for the Jordan Woods neighborhood and found the company has exceeded the limits for manganese for more than two decades. The latest report in 2012 showed the levels of manganese were three times higher than state standards.

EPA studies show excessive exposure of manganese can damage the nervous system in adults and cause learning disabilities in children. However at the levels found in the Jordan Woods water system, the state made it clear the water is not a health risk.

"To them it's secondary; but to us, it's still a primary concern," Ragsdale said. "They're not that concerned -- we are as parents, neighbors, friends. We have a concern with it and we want it fixed."

CWS Systems President Carl Daniel said the company plans to install a much bigger, 20,000-gallon tank by June which he said will "greatly improve those secondary aesthetic qualities."

"I certainly understand their concerns," Daniel said. "I would like to extend our sincere apologies for any type of inconveniences the manganese and iron may have caused them, but the water is safe."

Plans to install a bigger tank must first be approved by the state Division of Water Quality, and WNCN Investigates learned no plans have yet been submitted.

Still, Daniel stood by the plan to have a bigger tank by June, and guaranteed the homeowners in Jordan Woods would see greatly increased water quality in 90 days.

For now, the homeowners say its money down the drain.

"It's ridiculous. You spend $40 to $50 a month for water and you can’t use it," Strickland said.

Ragsdale added, "I'm spending $20, $30 every two weeks on cases of bottled water."

"We can't afford to just dole out money like that to repair filters," Eve Hilton said.

They've made it clear -- all they want is their water clear.

WNCN Investigates will follow up with CWS Systems and Utilities, Inc. in June to see if the issues have been fixed.

Copyright 2014 WNCN. All rights reserved.

Jonathan Rodriguez

Jonathan Rodriguez is an investigative reporter and member of the WNCN Investigates team. His storytelling specialty is connecting the dots to get to the truth, with a goal of delivering results for our community. If you have something you’d like WNCN to investigate, contact Jonathan.

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