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Alabama town gets the jump on toilet-to-tap but leaves bad taste in resident's mouths

From article reported by Ryan Dezember

December 04, 2005

FISH RIVER -- Dogwood Dells residents learned last week that raw sewage was pumped into their drinking water supply. For many this explains the odd taste of the past four months.

Utility officials acknowledge that they didn't find the need to test the water until recently, so they don't know when citizen started drinking sewage in their water. Dan McCrory, superintendent of the Water and Sewer department of the local  utility indicated that the contamination started when a private company, Baldwin County Sewer Service, had linked a discharge line from a travel trailer into the subdivision's water main.

But McCrory said the department doesn't log complaints and doesn't record where, when or how crews respond to them. For that matter, he said, he couldn't say when complaints started, how the city reacted or how long raw sewage had been polluting the neighborhood's water.

"They was complaining about this water a long time ago," said Dogwood Dells resident Lowell Powell. And he added, "We [just] drank sewage."

Last week, the utility found fecal coliform bacteria while testing the drinking water but McCrory said he didn't remember how high the bacterial counts were in the drinking water.

McCrory said Tuesday that he believed the misconnected pipe was installed on July 13. Later in the week, he said he believed the pipe wasn't connected until about two months ago.

Don't understand the meaning of "flush"

"They come and flush it and we think, 'OK, these are qualified people.' We didn't know why the water was not clear," Damon said. "We never suspected we'd been drinking and washing ourselves and brushing our teeth in human waste -- that's the grossest thing anyone can even think about."

Damon echoed the comments of many other residents: "There has to be a record somewhere when they hooked this sewage to this water line."

Resident Patricia Gamble said she never complained about the water because she knew that neighbors had. She assumed the isolated neighborhood's cloudy, stinky water had something to do with the summer's hurricanes.

Relationship built on trust

"They were saying they didn't find anything and we just trusted the city," Gamble said. "They started coming out in late July, early August to my best recollection and then again in the fall after the other hurricanes. They just guaranteed us it was taken care of. We didn't get any test results or ask for any."

McCrory said that the utility did flush some of the mains in late summer, but he acknowledged that the utility didn't actually test the water at the time. "It's not something you readily think about," he said. "It's so far off the wall."

Said Powell's wife, Helen: "They were told that the water smelled like sewer, but they never checked it out."

McCrory said that most persistent complaints came from the owners of the camper. The errant connection had created a loop in which, once a toilet was flushed or water went down a drain, effluent would pass through a grinder pump and then be forced away from the dwelling only to be sucked right back in when a faucet was opened.