Ithaca updates residents on water issues that made headlines in 2016

The City of Ithaca experienced several unrelated water issues in 2016. The following is an update on the status of these incidents:

Manganese and Discolored Water

The City of Ithaca was able to bring under control the high levels of manganese that were discoloring drinking water this past summer. The manganese levels in the City’s water source have dropped back to normal, but treatment systems are in place to prevent discoloration if manganese concentrations rise again in the future.


After numerous complaints about discolored water last summer, the City finally determined that the cause was an increase in manganese in water taken from the reservoir on Six Mile Creek. The City installed a sodium permanganate system at the reservoir to oxidize the manganese, which allowed the manganese to be removed from the water before it was distributed to customers. Once that permanganate system was operating successfully, the manganese levels in the City’s water system dropped below detectable limits and reports of discolored water ceased.

The City is testing for manganese in the raw water twice a week, and will test three times per week in the summer months. The manganese levels in the water from Six Mile Creek have dropped back to normal, but the permanganate system remains in place and will be utilized to again oxidize manganese if the levels rise again in the future. Additional improvements to the water intake at the reservoir, and future planned dredging of sediments, should also reduce the risk of future elevated levels of manganese in the City’s water supply


The City of Ithaca is in compliance with the EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule.


The City was in compliance when we last tested in 2015, but to confirm continued compliance, the City tested water from the taps of City residents in the summer of 2016. We are pleased to report that the City’s water system remains in compliance with the Lead and Copper Rule now that the new water treatment plant is in operation.

Lead gets into drinking water supplies when it dissolves from lead service lines and lead solder in the plumbing of older homes and buildings. The Lead and Copper Rule requires that action be taken to control corrosion if lead levels exceed 15 parts per billion (ppb) in more than 10% of homes tested.

60 samples were gathered during August and September from City of Ithaca homes known to contain lead plumbing. 90% of the homes tested at or below 4.6 ppb of lead, and none of the samples tested above the action level. This is essentially the same as when the City last tested in 2015. All homeowners were provided with their results.

Similarly, 90% of homes tested at or below 0.32 ppm of copper, which is lower than when the City last reported in 2015. In fact, none of the samples tested above the action level for copper of 1.3 ppm.

The City is in the process of retesting fixtures at Cass Park and Stewart Park where water samples last year showed lead concentrations above the action limit of 15 ppb. As a result of initial retesting, one sink in the concession area at Cass Park showed lead concentrations well below the action limit and has been placed back in service.

Lead in drinking water at schools


In response to concerns raised early last year regarding lead in the water at local schools, the City of Ithaca sampled plumbing fixtures in all City owned facilities. As noted above, lead in the water comes from older plumbing, not from the water system itself. Because some City facilities have older plumbing, it was deemed prudent to sample for lead in those facilities.

Water fountains, sinks, and other fixtures that tested above 15 ppb were taken out of service. However, it was suspected that the results of water samples taken at the parks might be inaccurate, as the samples were taken after a long period of low water usage. Because the fixtures were not flushed the day before the tests were conducted, the samples may have contained inaccurately high lead levels.

Proper testing protocols require that plumbing fixtures be thoroughly flushed, allowed to sit overnight, and then sampled first thing in the morning. Following this protocol, the City retested two of the fixtures at Cass Park, with one of the fixtures coming in well below the action limit. The City will be retesting additional fixtures at Cass Park and at Stewart Park in the first quarter of 2017. When the results are received, it will be determined whether any fixtures can be placed back into service and which require replacement.

Disinfection Byproducts on West Hill

The City is once again in compliance with the EPA’s Disinfection Byproducts Rule.


In August, the 3rd quarter running annual average of trihalomethanes (THMs) at the Cliff Park Road Tank was 88 micrograms per liter (ug/L), which was above the maximum concentration limit (MCL) of 80 ug/L. THMs are formed when the chlorine added for disinfection reacts with naturally-occurring organic material. Exceedances can occur in remote points in the City’s water distribution system, like Cliff Park Road, in very warm weather, which we had during last summer’s historic drought.

While not an emergency, water customers served by the Cliff Park Road Tank were notified of the violation.

When the 4th quarter sample was taken on October 12th, the running annual average was 74 ug/L, back below the MCL. None of the other zones in the City’s water system had THM levels above the limit during 2016.

The City installed a tank mixer in the Cliff Park Road Tank in October 2016, which should help reduce the conditions that promote the formation of THMs. Furthermore, the aforementioned improvements at the reservoir, and the optimization of the treatment systems at the new state-of-the-art water treatment plant, should further help reduce the naturally-occurring organic material in the water supply, which will reduce the formation of THMs.

New Water Plant

The new state-of-the-art water treatment plant on Water Street, which treats water from Six Mile Creek, now has all of the membrane filters installed and fully operational, which means the City of Ithaca is once again able to produce 100% of the water consumed by City water customers.


For the first nine months of 2016, while in the process of switching from the old water treatment plant to the new plant, the City’s water production was at less than full capacity. The City purchased water from Bolton Point and Cornell to make up the difference, and some customers on East Hill normally served by water from the City’s plant on Water Street were temporarily served by water from those other water systems. The temporary arrangements have ended, and these customers are once again using water from Six Mile Creek.

The new water treatment plant is nearing final completion and should be 100% complete by this spring.

Cloudy Water

Finally, some water customers have reported that their tap water seems “cloudy.” This is caused by dissolved air in the water, which forms tiny air bubbles once the water warms up and is no longer under pressure. It is completely harmless. The cloudiness disappears when the water is allowed to sit.

The link provided below explains this issue quite well.

If you have questions about the information contained in this summary, please contact Chief of Staff Dan Cogan at [email protected]

Information on Cloudy Water

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