SEBRING - About nine days ago, Mark DeNardis turned on his faucet, and water the color of iced tea came gushing out, he said. The following day the water cleared, and turned brown again - off and on - until it cleared again Thursday. Jacob McClelland said he has been forced to bathe, cook and brush his teeth in brown-colored water since Monday, the third time in the last few months. He doesn't use his ice maker, though, and shared with Highlands Today a photo of it he took Tuesday afternoon, showing visibly brown ice cubes laying on top of semi-brown ones.
"I just want clean water," he declared. DeNardis and McClelland are at least four Sebring Lakes subdivision residents who say their water has been brown the last few days, and U.S. Water Services Corp., their water supplier, has not been responsive to their complaints. DeNardis said the brown water problem first happened last January, and it was so bad, he and his wife ate outside, washed their clothes in a laudromat and bathed at friends' homes for three weeks until the water cleared up. Another resident Steven Cook said the water has turned his dishwater brown over the last few months and now they wash their dishes by hand. Cook said he is afraid to replace the dishwasher because he is not sure if it'll get caked again with a brown sediment. "We have no recourse to action. We can't go to another water company. We can't dig a well here," DeNardis said. "I don't like to pay $50 (a month) for dirty water." Lucja Michalowska installed a $5,000 water filtration and softening system in her home in 2005 but often encounters a brown colored ring in her toilet bowls. "This is ridiculous. You pay for the water," she said. U.S. Water Services Corp. Senior Vice President Dave Schultz said that "at no time was the quality of the water bad (for health purposes). It was the clarity of the water." "We've addressed customers' complaints. We are flushing the system," he said. "We strive to address the customers' concerns. We continually monitor the treatment process." Thursday, a representative of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection was there to collect water samples and examine the situation. U.S. Water had flushed out the system with water from the fire hydrant, and the water was clear again Thursday, said DEP's southwest district ombudsman Terry Cerullo. The computer that runs the filter backwash system had malfunctioned, he said, and the company did not know. They reverted to using a manual process and have told DEP they will fix the computer problems, he said. While the water was not visually appealing and did not look like what water is supposed to, the chlorine levels were at or above standards, Cerullo said. "Obviously, no one likes brown water. We all recognize that and so does U.S. Water," he said. "Even if it was brown water, it was safe to drink." He said company officials have said they will keep the dialogue open with residents. "We will be talking to U.S. Water constantly. We always have and always will be," he said. DeNardis said the water coming out of his bathroom faucet as of 3 p.m. Thursday was clear, but he didn't know how long the water would stay clear before turning brown. "They've done it before when it appeared it (the problem) was fixed," he said. "The water turned brown." For questions, call Cerullo at 239-344-5647239-344-5647 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org