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No clear solutions in Kent as family, city battle over rusty water

By Diane Smith Record-Courier staff writer Published: July 15, 1997 12:00 AM

``It was a joke,'' she said. ``We asked them if they wanted to use our tap

water in their ads. They didn't seem to think it was funny.''

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After eight years of brown, rusty water that has destroyed several household

appliances and years of disruptive water testing, the family's sense of

humor is wearing thin.

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And while city officials agree there is a serious problem, more tests will

be done this summer before deciding if the responsibility lies with the

city or the Metz family _ a move that makes Metz and her husband, Rae, wonder

if the city is looking for a way to avoid the cost of replacing the water


``If they would tell us what we can do internally to solve this problem,

Rae and I would jump up and do it, with the understanding that if it didn't

work, they would reimburse us for our expense and fix the problem,'' she


The water in the house, at 938 S. Willow Street Extension, ranges in color

from slightly discolored to a deep rusty brown color resembling tomato juice.

The discoloration is due to a high iron content.

Mrs. Metz said the problem started about eight years ago with rusty water

in toilet bowls. City tests showed the water was safe to drink. So the family

thought a filter and a softener system might help.

A $2,000 water softener with two filters was installed, but the filters

have to be changed frequently, and the rust has seemed to worsen.

This is the second summer the family has had a large test hole in the front

yard, dug by city officials to test the condition of the water as it comes

into the home. So far, a solution hasn't been found.

``We're still trying to determine the source of the problem,'' Interim City

Manager William Lillich said. ``We did some testing last year, but some

of the people involved with it are no longer with the city. The absence

of clear and detailed reports has been a problem.''

Since moving in 20 years ago, the family has replaced four dishwashers,

four garbage disposals, three washing machines and numerous spigots and

stoppers in sinks and bathtubs.

The family, which uses two hot water heaters, now also needs to replace

a hot water tank _ for the sixth time _ but is refusing to invest in any

more repairs or appliances until the problem is solved.

Last year, Mrs. Metz said, city workers told her the problem was the water

line, since her house was the last home on the line serving her subdivision.

Now, they seem to be backing away from that stance.

``We can't see the light at the end of the tunnel,'' she said.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Metz uses the washing machine only for heavily soiled work

clothes, and does the remaining laundry at a laundromat or at her mother's

nearby home. She showers there too, although her sons still use the shower

at the house. It must be scrubbed with bleach to remove rust stains afterward.

The family uses bottled water for drinking and cooking.

``We're paying the city for sewer, water, and recycling,'' she said. ``They

ought to be paying me.'' City Engineer Alan Brubaker said the city has changed

the direction of water flow so it travels through less of the Willow Street

water line. But that didn't relieve the problem, which may indicate a problem

in the plumbing system.

``If the lines are bad, we will replace them, but it doesn't make any sense

to replace the line and inconvenience everyone else on that street if it

won't solve the problem,'' he said. ``We're trying to do as much work as

we can to reach a conclusion, and hopefully offer them a solution for free.''

He said iron can be generated within a plumbing system due to many causes,

including steel or iron pipes, plumbing materials, or hot water tanks, stray

electrical currents, or the water softener itself. Heating and softening

water changes it and makes it more subject to corrosion, he said.

But Mrs. Metz and her husband say city workers tested all pipes and found

them to be copper or plastic. At the insistence of the city, electrical

upgrades were done and the water softener was turned off for two weeks during

testing, but the rust remained.

Now, the Metz family said, tests show their neighbors are now starting to

experience the discoloration they faced eight years ago.

``It's starting to work its way down the line,'' Mrs. Metz said.

But Brubaker said many homes in Kent are served by unlined pipe and experience

some discoloration because such pipe was standard many years ago. The Metz

family's problems are extreme, he added.

Kent City Council's Streets, Sidewalks and Utilities Committee is expected

to discuss the problem at an upcoming meeting.

Lillich said he hopes the problem is solved soon.

``We hope to find some answers in a hurry,'' he said. ``We're no more comfortable

than the residents are.''

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