Water worries: Residents pack St. Cloud Council chambers with concerns about city utility system

  • St. Cloud city residents air concerns about the water conditions at a meeting on Tuesday. PHOTO/CITY OF ST. CLOUD
    St. Cloud city residents air concerns about the water conditions at a meeting on Tuesday. PHOTO/CITY OF ST. CLOUD

By Terry Lloyd
For the News-Gazette
More than 100 concerned residents packed the St. Cloud Council Chambers on Tuesday night for an update on water quality from city officials.
Since at least 2016, numerous residents have experienced “orange” water and sediment coming out of their taps and into their washing machines, dishwashers and other appliances. The cause of the problem has been Miex resin, used in the treatment of raw water at the plant, getting through damaged filters and into the water distribution system. The major subdivisions affected so far have been located between Old Canoe Creek and Canoe Creek roads.
For the last year, the city’s Utilities Department has been replacing filters and other infrastructure at the city’s Water Plant No. 4 to eliminate the problem.
“The water coming from the plant is now clear of the resin,” according to the city’s Interim Utilities Director Brian Wheeler, who was brought on last summer specifically to address the city’s water problems.
The department attempted to remove the resin and sediment from the system through several rounds of intense flushing of the pipes in December and January, with mixed results. Some residents experienced clearer water after the flushing, while others saw even more sediment than before, and now some residents are experiencing the problem for the first time.  
St. Cloud Mayor Nathan Blackwell, City Manager Bill Sturgeon and Wheeler were on hand to hear the residents’ concerns and vent their frustrations. In addition to the extreme inconvenience, residents complained of possible damage to plumbing and appliances, and costs incurred, as well as health concerns. The Miex resin system has only been operational in the water treatment industry since 2006, and the material is authorized by federal agencies for water treatment. However, the resin is supposed to be filtered out prior to the water entering the distribution system. The levels in a portion of St. Cloud’s system appeared to be unprecedented in any treatment operation until now.
“We are the long-range test case,” said one resident.
One resident produced a dramatic video of pitch-black water coming from a bathroom sink. Officials said they will investigate; however, the resident was not from an area that has been associated with the Miex resin problem, but is in an area of new residential construction.
The city’s next step in resolving its water woes is to clean the distribution lines with a method called. “ice pigging.” As described in a video shown at the meeting, a contractor’s tanker truck filled with a slurry of ice and water (think of a “slushie”) pumps the mixture through closed sections of pipe and out of a fire hydrant. The water/ice mixture is then released into the sanitary sewer system.  
The process started on Feb. 10, along a 3,000-foot section of Old Canoe Creek Road. The ice pigging will continue through mid-March at various locations between Old Canoe Creek and Canoe Creek roads, and south of 13th Street. The current phase is costing the city $500,000 and as results are measured, additional areas may be added to the contract.
“This process has been used successfully in Orange County for different issues,” Wheeler said.
He added that his department needed residents to contact them if they are experiencing the discoloration, a change in intensity, or if the water is now running clear.
“We need data points,” he said.
Several residents called for deep reduction in water bills, due to the poor water quality, and the need to constantly run water to clear out sediment. Some residents demanded the city defer spending on any new projects until the results and extent of ice pigging can be determined. The city’s water system is functioning reliably and water customers are compensated financially. Others also expressed that new residential development should be halted until the water issues are resolved.
Both Blackwell and Sturgeon said the city would explore providing compensation for damages and costs, and a city Risk Management staff member was on hand with claim forms to be completed by residents.
Residents will be notified of ice pigging in their neighborhoods by signs and door hangers. More information can be found at https://www.stcloud.org/1747/Environmental-Utilities  or by calling 407-957-7344.