LAKE STATION — Significant water main breaks are behind the brown, discolored water Lake Station residents see flowing through their faucets.
Mayor Chris Anderson said Tuesday afternoon he does not have an estimated completion date for repairs.
"I'd hate to give you a date because it's obviously hard to predict right now," Chris Anderson said.
A boil water alert circulating on social media is false, he said. Water pressure is being carefully monitored and has never dropped to a point in which a boil advisory was necessary.
And the water — while visually unappealing — is safe to drink, he added. The city has tested its water supply, and no health concerns have been flagged at this time. If an advisory is issued or safety concern is discovered, the city will notify residents, he said.
Low pressure caused minerals to buildup, triggering the city's backup pumps to flow even more water into the system, which further stirred up minerals and created the discoloration, he said.
Lake Station resident Mary Sullivan said Tuesday her water has been brown "off and on" for about two months now.
"We have called and were told it is just minerals. (Officials said to) run the water and let it flush through. So we run the water for 30 minutes and it clears up," she said.
The expense to run the water until it's clear adds up, though, and her water bills run high, she said.
"I understand this administration was stuck with nothing in the budget. Lake Station is in the process of selling the water filtration system. I lived on the east side of Lake Station which is supplied with American Water through New Chicago.
System flush in the works
To address the issue, two major factors are in play: how quickly contractors can repair a damaged, interconnected pipe beneath the bridge at Ind. 51 and how the weather fares over the next several weeks.
"We have been and continue to plan for a comprehensive flush of our water system which, upon completion, will flush out minerals that have settled and built up within the distribution system," according to a city news release disseminated on social media Monday night.
"The flushing is expected to substantially reduce the water discoloration issues we have experienced. Before a comprehensive flush can occur, our backup water supply has to be available. Unfortunately, our backup water supply comes from Indiana American Water through an interconnected pipe that runs underneath Burns ditch on Route 51," the release states.
To conduct a system flush, officials need a string of mild weather days above freezing, Anderson said.
The city on Nov. 9 awarded a $158,510 contract to H&G Underground Utilities for the repair interconnected pipe, which should occur "over the next couple of weeks." The company is waiting on a particular part to complete the repairs, Anderson said.
Many of the breaks have been repaired, except one near the river at Route 51. That main break likely occurred several days ago but was only recently discovered due to the location being near the river and the water from the break flowing in the river, according to the city.
'I hate our water'
Lake Station Councilman Neil Anderson recently vented about the situation on his Facebook page, airing concerns about the lack of financial resources and manpower to keep up with repairs.
"I personally, do not drink our water. I hate our water. I hate everything about our water. It’s very sad how neglected the water has been over the years resulting in the situation we are in now. The water hasn’t been maintained properly for years and years. It’s a very difficult process to get this water under control because of the lack of resources and finances. The city cannot keep up with water issues," Neil Anderson wrote.
He told The Times on Tuesday he has received countless complaints via email, phone and text messaging.
The city has dealt with main breaks in the past, he said, but this one produced the most complaints since he was elected to council in 2016.
"Since taking office, the water has been the biggest problem. It doesn’t seem like it’s ever going to end," he said.
The city has been working for roughly two years now to sell its water system to Indiana American Water for $20.68 million. The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission approved the sale, but the statutory process is tied up in the courts.
The Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor, which represents consumer interests before the IURC, has appealed the decision, the mayor said.
Councilman Anderson said the brown water issue is "the biggest reason the decision was made to sell the water."
"Indiana American Water has the manpower and resources for the job. Your water bill will not increase once the transfer happens. I understand everybody’s frustration with the city and the water. We have been dealing with this issue since day 1. There is no easy or quick fix. We are doing our best with the hand we are dealt. I’m just as frustrated as everybody else with this water mess," he wrote on Facebook.