Flushing pipes turns Coupeville's water red

No, the reddish-pink liquid that poured from kitchen spigots on New Year’s Eve was not a sign of the coming Apocalypse, though it was scary enough to spur a handful of Coupeville residents to dial 911 in a panic.

Police scanner, 11:37am: Caller says water was “running red.”

Police scanner, 3:56pm: Caller noted “dirt and sand deposits” in water that was turning “pinkish and purple hues.”

Police scanner, 4:03pm: Report of “brown, dirty-colored water” on Coveland Street.


Turns out, however, that the multi-colored water momentarily filled pipes from Front St to NE 6th in downtown Coupeville was the result of a routine hydrant flush by the local fire district. The mysterious brown, pink and red stuff all those wide-eyed folks saw in their sinks and toilets was rust.

“It happens every time they do it,” said Coupeville Public Works Director Malcolm Bishop. He said that the fire district flushes area hydrants once a year to clean out sediment and that the practice, however colorful the results, presents no health hazard to the public.

“The water in our system is tested daily,” Bishop said. “There was some rust color in the water. Nothing’s harmful there.”

He added, however, that “it doesn’t look good, I guess.”

Bishop said the people who phone in reports of freaky-looking liquid are often renters, unfamiliar with the annual ritual of flushing the water system. And judging by the addresses from which the reports came, it is only those homes close to the hydrants that appear to be affected.

The reason rust gets dislodged into near-by residential pipes is the tremendous flow that runs through fire hydrants, Bishop said. It’s like a geyser running through the system.

“It causes great turbulence when they open up a water main,” said Bishop. “Anything that’s been setting sitting will pick up. The fire hydrants are all iron. The water sits in there and it can get rusty.”

Besides cleaning out sediment, the hydrants are flushed to test water pressure and to ensure that everything is working properly.

Bishop said that the city typically cleans out its own mains in October and November, but that the recent spate of concerned calls has Coupeville officials reconsidering the way it flushes.

“From this we’ve learned that we’ve got to coordinate this better,” he said, calling for a master plan that would bring the city’s and the fire district’s water washing schedules into agreement.

“We want to flush the whole thing at once,” Bishop said.

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