Dawn Mayberry has lived in High Springs for six years and never drinks the water or allows her family to bath in it.
“The water smells like bleach as soon as you turn it on,” Mayberry said. “My family’s skin is itchy and dry after taking a shower.”
Mayberry said her 3-year-old daughter had severe diarrhea after drinking bath water while playing in the tub. Mayberry now bathes her daughter at her mother’s home in Newberry.
Rodney Hoffman, High Springs Water Operator and Utility Superintendent, said the city responds to all water concerns and takes them very seriously.
In February, High Springs replaced a major pipeline that was causing problems, primarily from frequent bursts due to age. Hoffman said since replacing the pipeline, issues with water have improved substantially.
“In the past, High Springs has had issues with water contaminants,” Hoffman said. “We’ve implemented new measures to reduce contaminants and it has really been helping.”
Hoffman explained that High Springs is now adding small amounts of hydrogen peroxide to purify the water.
Despite these changes, High Springs still receives its fair share of boil water notices.
Sharon Tugman, owner of Secret Garden Bakery, said boil water notices hurt local businesses. Boiling water every time she needs it for baking or running the restaurant is time consuming, she said.
Hoffman explained that boil water notices don’t necessarily mean the water is contaminated.
“Most commonly, a boil water advisory is used after a pipe bursts to ensure that no contaminants made their way in the line as a result of the burst pipe,” he said.
However, the problem is not limited to the boil water notices.
Heather Melendez said her well water is crystal clear and odor free, but her neighbors on city water often complain about the color and smell.
Hoffman said a variety of factors can go into creating discolored, odorous water. Sometimes, Hoffman said, residents move into a home that hasn’t been occupied in over a year and the water has been stagnant.
“Just like anything, if water sits, it starts to get a weird smell,” Hoffman said.
Color and odor are considered secondary contaminants that don’t impact water safety, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP).
But, Russell Simpson, the FDEP Northeast District Ombudsman, said High Springs has certainly encountered water safety concerns in the past, specifically with disinfection byproducts (DBP), contaminants used to disinfect water.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that byproducts of water disinfection have been linked to an increase in cancer incidents. It is for this reason that the EPA sets limits for disinfection byproducts.
The state sets maximum contaminant levels (MCL) for disinfection byproducts. High Springs was in violation of all state levels set for disinfection byproducts in 2016, but improved to just one violation in 2017.
City water exceeded the state’s maximum contamination level for Trihalomethane (TTHM) by 28.01 parts per billion (ppb) in 2016 and by 15.13 ppb in 2017.
It also exceeded the state’s maximum level for Haloacetic Acid (HAA5) by 23.94 ppb in 2016, but brought the average within legal levels in 2017.
The 2018 report has not been released yet.
Simpson stressed High Spring’s efforts to clean up the water are working.
“The changes they have implemented are decreasing the levels, and the system is now meeting the standards,” he said.
High Springs is also collecting more water samples and working with the FDEP to ensure the public remains notified of all results, Simpson added. These samples test for any possible contaminants in the water, and with more testing, High Springs is able to better respond to potential concerns.
While residents like Mayberry still don’t trust High Spring’s water to be safe, officials continue to assure residents that their drinking water quality is steadily improving.
“If you don’t feel safe drinking your water after a boil water notice, wait a few days,” Hoffman said. “If you still don’t feel safe after that, then call us and we’ll come out and take a look.”