Residents are concerned and the DEQ is involved after water in Roberts comes out brown - East Idaho News

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Residents are concerned and the DEQ is involved after water in Roberts comes out brown

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Brown drinking water poured from a home faucet in Roberts on Feb. 8. | Photo courtesy.

ROBERTS – A concerned Roberts father woke up on Feb. 8 to find brown water coming out of his faucets. He wasn’t alone and now he, along with other residents, have questions for city leaders who plan to address the situation Tuesday night.

The concerned citizen, who asked to remain anonymous, says the water problem started small.

“It all started with the water quality here because it was brown. We weren’t alarmed yet, but the next day got a little worse,” says the man. “It was to the point where we couldn’t fill the sink with it and we wouldn’t bathe our children with it. It was gross. We hesitated to use it, touch it, heaven forbid drink it, or even brush you teeth with it.”

Later that day, the city of Roberts posted on its Facebook page that although the water might be discolored, it was “tested and safe to drink.”

The man says he called the city clerk to ask what was happening and to find out when water quality would return to normal. He was given very few answers.

“I was told by the City Clerk that they were doing maintenance on our wells, so they switched us over to another well, and this one hadn’t been used frequently so it was just sediment flushing itself out,” says the man. “I asked what it was exactly, and they didn’t know much or have any information for me.”

Alarmed by the lack of answers, he decided to track down someone with more knowledge of the water system in Roberts. That led him to the Department of Environmental Quality in Idaho Falls, where employees sprung into action when told about the issue.

The next day, on Feb. 9, the city posted a Facebook message that the water was still safe and DEQ had been contacted. The city later backtracked and said DEQ had actually contacted the city with concerns about water quality.

“It didn’t sit well with me. I had more questions than answers. The following day, I called to find who runs the water in Roberts. It took me a while and a handful of calls before I was directed to the DEQ,” says the anonymous citizen. “It wasn’t until I contacted the DEQ that they came out here and they were unaware of what was happening in Roberts.”

According to the man, DEQ officials visited Roberts and tested the water in his house, neighboring homes, and other places around the city. They reportedly found very high levels of chlorine in the water system.

That evening, the city posted a third message advising city residents not to drink the water and a “do not drink” order was issued, which is different than a boil order. The city did not post any instructuions differentiating the two types of orders.

The next day, Feb. 10, the city posted the water was again drinkable, stating “the water was tested this morning by DEQ and tested within normal range.”

The anonymous citizen says within this time, he contacted the city about the alarming water quality findings, and he says his concerns were dismissed. Many Facebook users were also posting photos of their own discolored tap water asking questions about the water in Roberts.

Screenshot 2023 02 20 at 10.07.06 AM
Photos of dirty water in Roberts. | Facebook

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Photos of dirty water in Roberts. | Facebook

On Feb. 11, the city’s Facebook page reversed their statement again, saying the water might still be undrinkable in some areas and residents should flush out their faucets.

On Feb. 14, the city was notified by DEQ that they had violated multiple rules within water quality regulations.

According to the notification posted to the city’s website and Facebook page, “The City of Roberts failed to recieve such approval before changing its water source. The City of Roberts failed to notify DEQ or it’s licensed certified operator that material modifications were being made to the system, including changes to the chlorination device. Before activating an existing water source for human consumption, DEQ has start-up procedure requirements to ensure drinking water is safe for the public.”

Two days later, Roberts Mayor B.J. Berlin posted a recorded video to the city’s Facebook page. He said the city received multiple calls from citizens about water discoloration and officials immediately made efforts to resolve the issue. Watch the video in the player above.

Berlin explains the incident by saying there were “things that our maintenance operators, past mayors, and some of our experts, were unaware that DEQ requires us to do. So we have some violations that we’re concerned about and we’re addressing to fix those issues.”

The concerned citizen says that throughout this process, residents of Roebrts were continually confused about the mixed messaging and were concerned for the health and safety of the community.

“The DEQ was trying to get to the bottom of things, they’re taking constant samples, two a day, and having them analyzed. They hadn’t yet gotten results back, and our mayor was leaving Facebook videos on the city of Roberts page saying it’s all fine, everything is fine, not informing people that they weren’t supposed to boil the water,” says the anonymous man. “When you have a ‘don’t drink’ order, a lot of people think you just have to boil it. But in this case, with heavily chlorinated water, it actually amplifies its concentration.”

Frustrated with the messaging, the man says city officials were unsuccessful in helping citizens know what water to drink, and how drinking the overly chlorinated water could hurt them.

“(The mayor) wasn’t doing the proper things to inform the people of Roberts what they should be doing. In fact, he was almost trying to sweep things under the rug by not taking the DEQ seriously, and he was almost undermining what they were attempting to do,” says the man.

According to the anonymous man, the water quality has been “mostly clear for a couple of days now.” A post on the city’s Facebook page says the City Council plans to address the “water plant incident” at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

EastIdahoNews.com attempted to to contact Mayor B.J. Berlin but were unsuccessful. We will update this story if we hear back from him.

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