Albion council looks to tackle discolored water problem

T-R PHOTO BY ROBERT MAHARRY Engineer Bob Veenstra of Veenstra and Kimm holds a discolored water sample an Albion resident provided to him at the city council meeting on Monday night. Although they did not take official action as the item was only on the agenda for discussion, council members and Mayor Pat Hemming agreed that tackling the problem head on should be a top priority.

ALBION — Several Albion residents brought their concerns about discolored brownish yellow tap water to the city council during Monday night’s regular monthly meeting, and engineer Bob Veenstra of Veenstra and Kimm discussed possible solutions to the problem with those in attendance.

After handling a few routine introductory items and reports, the council dove into one other related matter — the potential of raising water rates to cover the costs of an SRF sewer loan estimated to cost about $341,000. It was predicted it would amount to an increase of about $8.75 per household depending on the exact number of residences using the city water system.

The most pressing business, however, was the discoloration issue, and a resident brought a bottled and visibly yellow sample from his tap to share with Veenstra. Before the meeting, several residents sent pictures of their water to the T-R via email and social media.

Before opening up the floor to the council and the residents in attendance, Veenstra broke down the scientific factors that cause discoloration, which usually comes from a buildup of iron, which has a metallic taste, and/or manganese, which is known to taste “gritty.” The simplest explanation he offered was that the pH level in Albion’s water was around 7.3, and Marshalltown’s, which is drawn from the same source, is closer to nine.

Veenstra explained that the city would likely need to obtain a permit to begin the chemical treatment process and boost the pH level, but as council members and Mayor Pat Hemming noted, the problem is relatively isolated even within Albion. Only a handful of households deal with it at any given time, and Councilman Logan Kelley wondered why that was.

“Why is it so sporadic? Why is it in six or eight or 10 households, and it’s not in the entire town? My water’s clear as day. Garrett lives a block and a half away from me, and apparently, his isn’t. That’s my question,” Kelley said.

Veenstra responded that corrosive waters “tend to be that way” depending on the amount of movement in the water.

“That’s one of the characteristics of an aggressive water is it’s not uniform. If it was throughout the city, everywhere, it would tell you that it’s the water coming from the wells,” he said. “When you have something that’s laid down in the pipe and you have a water that’s kind of trying to eat that up a little bit, it tends to be very sporadic.”

The discolored water, Veenstra added, is still safe to drink and has the same pH levels, but residents who have children said it was difficult to convince them of that fact.

Kelley then asked another question about what the best course of action would be, wondering if Veenstra intended to raise the phosphate levels, but he responded that that would only be a temporary fix. Kelley also expressed uneasiness about charging customers for water if they couldn’t even use it to wash their clothes.

“Phosphate won’t get rid of the fundamental problem. What it’ll tend to do is it’ll tend to cover it up,” Veenstra said. “But ultimately, the water is still aggressive. So the analogy I used for the mayor is if I have a broken leg and I take Tylenol, that’ll cut the pain down for a while, but eventually, I’ve got to get the leg fixed.”

Removing the old iron and boosting the pH, Veenstra said, was the best long-term solution.

Water expert Rhonda Guy was also on hand and asked residents with water problems to City Clerk Ranea Wonders along with specific details about when the discoloration is occurring. All of the council members — especially Kelley and Councilman Doug Loffgren — were in agreement that the city needed to do whatever was necessary as quickly as possible to rectify the problem, but because an action item was not on the agenda, no motion could be made.

“This is a no brainer. Let’s do it,” Loffgren said.

Instead of waiting another month to take official action, however, they informally agreed to explore pricing options and what steps needed to be taken in terms of permits for orthopoly phosphate and sodium hydroxide treatments before bringing their findings back to a special meeting sometime soon.


Contact Robert Maharry

at 641-753-6611 ext. 255 or



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