More Dogs on Main |

More Dogs on Main

Tom Clyde, Record columnist

The big news locally is that there is stuff in the water. Not all the water. But in a few neighborhoods clustered around the Park City Golf Course there is nasty stuff in the drinking water. For a couple of weeks now, the city has had a drinking-water advisory in place, telling people not to drink or cook with the water from the tap. They recommend showering quickly, or as an alternative, showering at the Racquet Club. That would be a little chilly since the building has been torn down. I think they meant the temporary facility on Iron Horse Drive, which is getting pretty easy to get to now that the Bonanza Drive construction is nearing an end.

The stuff in the water is more than just unpleasant: manganese, arsenic, thallium, and now mercury. That’s not stuff you find on the shelves at Whole Foods. A friend who lives in Park Meadow heard the list on the radio and thought they said there was Valium in the water in Thaynes Canyon. She was quite annoyed that the city wasn’t putting Valium in her water, too. "I pay the same property-tax rate as those people, I should get the same service," she insisted.

Life is hard for the non-chemists out there. A few years back they found elevated levels of antimony in the city water supply. I thought they said "acrimony" and figured that explained a whole lot of things. You can’t expect people to get along if there is acrimony in the water supply. Adding Valium seemed like a reasonable countermeasure.

The city water department has managed the situation professionally but is having a hard time figuring out what’s happening. The water coming out of the source (Spiro Tunnel) is no different from normal. So the stuff is coming from somewhere inside the system. That sounds like the plot for a bad movie, like maybe "Boogens II."

There won’t be many of you out there who will remember "The Boogens." It was one of the worst movies ever made. It was shot here in Park City. Once we saw it, there was a collective sigh of relief that they had put fake Colorado license plates on all the cars.

I manage the little water system in my neighborhood, so I understand how hard it is to figure some of this out. It’s good to have water mains make loops so you can deliver water from either direction in case of high demand or if there is a need to shut part of the system down. But that makes isolating the location of the problem difficult. When they flush from one hydrant, the water moves one direction. The next day they flush someplace else, and the water moves a different direction. Add in multiple sources, tanks and pressure zones, and it gets very complicated.

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If you’ve ever looked inside a water main that has been in the ground for 40 years or so, it’s not a pretty sight. You might expect it to be clean and shiny, but in fact the insides of the water pipes look like a diagram of arterial sclerosis. There is rust and scale and sometimes a little sand and gravel. Some of the pipes in my neighborhood have been in the ground for 70 years. We’re mercury free, but the plumbing is ripe for an angioplasty.

The latest theory from the experts is that the chemical changes in the water were caused by switching sources. This time of year, the water from the Spiro Tunnel mostly gets used for snowmaking. To replace that source in the drinking-water supply, water from some other source is being pumped into the pipes that normally deliver Spiro Tunnel water to the taps in Thaynes Canyon. The pH of the two sources is different, and apparently the alternative source is dissolving the gunk in the pipes. They have invented Lipitor for plumbing. Instead of sticking to the walls of the pipes, the nasty stuff is going back into solution and coming out of the tap. So they think they can adjust the pH a little and solve the problem — sort of like adjusting the chemistry of a hot tub.

A friend who lives in the affected area forwarded an email from the city about the situation. To try to put a little perspective on it, the city pointed out that the arsenic level, for example, was between 3 and 13 parts per billion. One part per billion, the officials said, is like "one drop of vermouth in 500 barrels of gin." You wouldn’t get information like that from the Provo water department. That test was taken before the mercury showed up. But I think the message is pretty clear stick with distilled spirits until the problem is solved.

Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland, and has been writing this column for nearly 25 years.