NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — Mary Eckert hasn’t used tap water to cook or drink in about a year.
She lives on North Pennington Road, in the Rutgers Village section of New Brunswick. Some of her neighbors no longer consume water from their faucets. Linda Villanueva, for one, said her family buys two or three of the 5-gallon jugs for their water dispenser each week from Home Depot.
Among the concerns about their water are discoloration, low pressure and the possible presence of lead—which isn’t visible to the naked eye.
“I try not to do anything with the water that comes out of the tap,” Eckert said. “I’d rather my children drink bottled water than to drink poison.”
Worries heightened last week, after an unidentified private contractor illegally opened a fire hydrant on April 15. That incident, according to the city, loosened iron deposits, discoloring water distributed to some Rutgers Village homes.
The New Brunswick Water Utility sent a team to test the water and flush the hydrant, removing the iron deposits. City spokesperson Jennifer Bradshaw said samples revealed “normal” chlorine levels, meaning the water was safe despite its discoloration.
Even so, the city warned residents against using hot water or doing laundry. Iron can disturb water heaters and stain laundry, Bradshaw said.
The water mains settled within two hours, she said, noting that the New Brunswick Water Utility adheres to treatment and distribution standards set by state and federal regulators.
“The water we produce continuously meets these standards throughout the entire city, not just Rutgers Village,” Bradshaw said. “The water utility is committed to providing high-quality drinking water to all customers, at all times.”
But the incident last week stirred Rutgers Village residents online. Some posted videos of rust-brown water jetting out of faucets, while others reached out to reporters for help in getting the word out.
Although a special circumstance, this event wasn’t particularly out of the norm, Eckert said.
“It’s been going off and on for quite a number of years,” she said, adding that she uses bottled water for everything from pasta to coffee. “The rust fills up inside and destroys the Keurig coffee machine. I’ve gone through three or four of them.”
After tests revealed lead in some faucets at New Brunswick Public Schools, Eckert also told her kids to avoid the water fountains.
Villanueva, who has lived on Tunison Road since 2002, said the brown water in her home didn’t clear up until yesterday, April 24. Her family has encountered problems showering, doing laundry and cooking due to water discoloration and low pressure.
“We just want reliable and clean water,” he said.
While the city and its water utility stand behind the quality of the water distributed to customers, they have undertaken a series of infrastructure improvements in the Rutgers Village neighborhood.
In summer 2016, the city replaced water and sewer mains on Wilcox Road, between the first intersection of Tunison and Halstead roads, and on a portion of Tunison Road, Bradshaw said. Aging infrastructure in that area had spurred reports of low water pressure and “impacted” quality, she said.
“That portion of the neighborhood is now on new valves and mains,” she added, “and we’ve received feedback from residents citing positive changes in both water pressure and water quality.”
The second stage of that project is scheduled to begin this summer. Workers plan to replace water and sewer mains on the remainder of Wilcox and Halstead roads.
Upcoming legs of the project are slated to replace all mains from Burnet Street to the second intersection of Tunison Road, Bradshaw said.
Residents, like Eckert, want the water utility to “put the necessary filters in place” to ensure the quality of the water and the safety of its consumers. What’s more, she said, the city should provide in-house water filters to homes in the area.
“It has a negative impact on my life,” she said.
New Brunswick plans to flush its hydrants beginning this week and through the end of May. That might cause issues with water in some households. Here’s the schedule for this week.