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CEDAR HILLS — Think about how many times you used water today to brush your teeth, shower, cook or wash your hands. You count on water from your tap to keep you clean and healthy, but what if it was doing just the opposite?
"Other neighbors had been sick for a couple of weeks, but we all just kept it to ourselves thinking it was a bug or the flu or something," said Cedar Hills resident Mary Moore.
Since early July, neighbors in a Cedar Hills neighborhood were getting sick. In September, symptoms got worse. Several people have been diagnosed with giardia since then, but what was causing it and why was it was spreading was not clear.
The only common factor among the 13 affected houses was dirty yellow water.
"So I got thinking, ‘Maybe they screwed up when they switched us over to Cedar Hills (water supply),'" said Aaron Michaels, a resident who contracted the disease.
That's exactly what happened. The area was getting its water from Manila Water Company until that company went bankrupt earlier in the summer. On July 5, a private contractor moved its line to an existing Cedar Hills system. That's also when neighbors started getting sick. The residents notified the city on Sept. 4 and public works crews began digging.
"We did find a cross-connect in (a) cluster of valves where there was a two inch lateral tied from the culinary irrigation to the pressurized irrigation," said City Manager David Bunker.
Simply put, a small, unknown pipe was allowing in secondary water. But the city didn't know about it. It was never identified on the construction plan.
That pipe has since been patched up. The city has also flushed the system with chlorine and fresh water. It will be testing the water through Sept. 21 to make sure the giardia is contained. Bunker said water wasn't tested earlier because it was already an active line with no testing requirements.
But what about residents' pain and suffering?
"We've all been charged with the water," said one neighbor, "and they said ‘Well, we will work with you on your bill.' That's not what we want to hear. What we want to hear is that you don't have to pay for the terrible water that you've been drinking."
Mayor Gary Gygi said the city will compensate residents for water bills during the past few months. He also said all doctor visits, medication and claims for time away from work should be filed with the city's insurance company.
"Anytime anyone gets sick we take that very seriously," Gygi said.
A notice which asked residents to boil their water in order to kill of the germ should be lifted within a week. But some residents say they're still hesitant.
The community will have another meeting with the city on Thursday.