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Dirty, smelly water on tap in Livingston

SUN-STAR PHOTO BY MARCI STENBERG
Lesa Sanchez holds a bottle of dirty water that came from her faucets in her home in Livingston. Sanchez says that when she washed her laundry the dirty water left brown stains on the garments also.

November 15, 2010
SUN-STAR PHOTO BY MARCI STENBERG Lesa Sanchez holds a bottle of dirty water that came from her faucets in her home in Livingston. Sanchez says that when she washed her laundry the dirty water left brown stains on the garments also. November 15, 2010 Merced Sun-Star

LIVINGSTON -- As she pulled her clothes from the dryer last month, Lesa Sanchez couldn't figure out why they were coming out with brown stains on them.

She'd seen it happen to her son's clothes before, but not her own.

Wondering what happened, Sanchez said she turned on her washing machine again and watched the water come out -- brown.

Dirty water is nothing new in Livingston, said Sanchez, who's lived in her home on Montecito Drive since 2004.

Sanchez has had brown water with a rotten egg smell come out of her faucets and shower head, but has never had it stain her clothes before. Instructions to let her water run until it clears up isn't a permanent enough fix. Neither is flushing out the pipes.

"I don't drink that water because I feel it's unsafe," Sanchez said while holding up two bags full of empty water bottles. "I don't even rinse my food in it."

And Sanchez is refusing to let the issue go.

After her clothes were stained, she filed a claim against the city.

Sanchez, who works as a phlebotomist (a person trained to draw blood) is requesting $150 to replace her clothes and $150 for the "mental anguish" the situation has caused, according to the claim form.

The claim was denied during a City Council meeting on Nov. 10, but there's still a chance that Sanchez will get at least part of her request paid.

The city belongs to the Central San Joaquin Valley Risk Management Authority, said Acting City Manager Vickie Lewis. When a claim is denied by the council, it's passed along to that agency where it's reviewed and a determination is made on whether it should be paid.

"They know the history of our water," Lewis said.

Though she couldn't say whether Sanchez's claim would be paid, similar claims have been paid before, excluding mental anguish, Lewis said.

The city takes all issues that affect residents seriously, especially when it involves the water, she said. "I've been here about six years now and we've had a number of cases of people who have actually brought their clothes in in bags and plopped them up on the counter," Lewis added.

There have been occasions where Richard Warne, the outgoing city manager, has reimbursed residents for damaged clothes, Lewis said.

Livingston's water can damage clothes at times, she acknowledged.

Sometimes bleach will take out the stains, but for Sanchez the issue is bigger than a few articles of stained clothing. "I'm the one who's making a stand," she said. "There are other people who probably said, 'Forget it, it's too much trouble.' That's not right."

If she doesn't get paid, Sanchez said she's prepared to take the issue to small claims court. She bottled some of the brown water that filled her washing machine, kept the stained clothing and took pictures.

Dirty water isn't a problem people think about until it happens to them, Sanchez said. After the incident on Oct. 13, she's learned to watch the water flow into her washing machine before putting any clothes in.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsun-star.com.

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