GUSTINE - City officials are fielding complaints from residents about brown water flowing from household taps in various neighborhoods, but as of late last week could only venture theories as to the cause.

The issue was a matter of discussion at the Feb. 16 Gustine City Council meeting, has prompted complaints to City Hall and has been a social media topic.

“We have never had it to this level before. Even at City Hall we are getting brown water,” City Manager Doug Dunford commented Thursday. “We are looking at every possible thing that could cause it to take corrective action so it doesn’t continue.”

Dunford told Mattos Newspapers that regular well source testing has been ongoing and that the water flowing from city wells into the distribution system meets quality standards.

But in light of the recent issues, he said, the city has taken samples from various points throughout the distribution system for testing. Test results were not available prior to publication deadline.

City crews are pro-actively flushing hydrants and will continue to do so until the problem is resolved, Dunford indicated Monday.

As of Thursday, Dunford said, the city had not deemed it necessary to order a boil notice or advisory against using the water.

Dunford told Mattos Newspapers he would leave use of the water up to the discretion of the consumer.

Dunford said the city has heard from consumers whose water has cleared after they let it run. He urged community members with discolored water to notify the city so public works crews can come out and flush fire hydrants in their neighborhood in order to clear the lines.

City officials, however, admitted to being baffled by the cause of the brownish water.

Dan Arnold, the city’s director of public works, told the City Council last week that typically such issues occur when a pipe breaks and crews must go in to make repairs. But there have been no recent breaks or repair work, he indicated.

Arnold said crews flushing out fire hydrants have found the water “pretty brown.”

“It is rust, from the old rusty pipes. It is not bacteria,” he stated.

The cause, though, remains a matter of speculation.

Arnold theorized that water tables have fallen, causing the city’s aging network of water lines to settle and throw off rust.

From the Zoom audience, resident Craig Christenson offered the council another theory: That the heavy equipment working on the Meredith Avenue sidewalk project has caused vibrations and shaken rust loose from the water lines beneath the roadway.

Christenson’s suggestion, Dunford said, may be on the mark - and if so will be proven if the water quality problem disappears when the walkway project is done and the heavy equipment departs.

But he also acknowledged that the theory is just that at the moment.

“We are at a loss,” the city manager remarked. “We don’t have a leak; we don’t have anything else going on. That (Meredith Avenue work) is the only thing we can point our finger at. If it is a coincidence, it is a strange coincidence.”

Dunford said, though, that the reports of brown water are being received sporadically from different areas of the city.

“It is spotty. That is what is perplexing about it,” he commented. “It is not just one area.”

Dunford said the complaints of brown water started about six weeks ago, coinciding with the start of the Meredith Avenue construction. The project is winding down, he explained, and if the problem persists “we are going to have to call in other engineers to see what could be causing this.”

Mayor Pat Nagy indicated that staff are doing the best they can to resolve the issue.

“We don’t want people having brown water or brown ice cubes,” he stated. “One of the main things a city is tasked with doing is providing good water. Last year we spent almost $900,000 on our water and sewer (systems). We are doing the best we can, but Mother Nature has her way of doing things also.”

Dunford said city officials have been in talks with the USDA in hopes of putting together a funding package to replace the city’s aging water and sewer systems.

He estimated that replacing the water system alone would carry a price tag of about $25 million.

More immediately, officials are urging anybody with brown water to notify the city by calling City Hall (854-6471) during regular business hours or the police dispatch number (854-1010) after-hours.