BAGLEY, Iowa -- People in the town of Bagley in Guthrie County cannot drink their water, and even if they boil it, it makes no difference.
The water contains high levels of manganese and no one has any idea when the water will be safe again.
"When my grandkids lived here in town, I filled up my swimming pool and it looked like a big pool of ice tea,” Bagley resident Ron McNeill said.
McNeill has lived in Bagley since 1998 and says for years they've had water less than ideal.
"We've always had an ongoing, I would say, kind of a brown tint sometimes to the water, but it would come in the bowl of your stool,” McNeill said.
That's why he was already using bottled water for many things before a water health advisory notice was on his front door.
"I used a lot of bottled water for my coffee, for my dog, so it's just one of those things," McNeill said.
But now all 300 residents in the town of Bagley were informed they must use bottled water because a recent test from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) determined the city's water supply contains levels of manganese 40 percent higher than the Health Advisory Levels (HAL) for adults set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
"It's an uncertainty for a lot of people here in town because we don't know how long it is going to take. So, until that time arrives, we will have to continue to use bottled water,” McNeill said.
Even worse, the manganese levels in Bagley are 500 times higher than the recommended levels for infants, or for adults if exposed over a lifetime.
We spoke to Bagley resident Dawn Woodly via Facebook who says this has been a problem for years. With 14-month-old twins and an 8-year-old son, she spends $130 per month on bottled water and has to drive to another town to pick it up.
Councilman Nick Lestina tells us the city has always known manganese was in the water, but they never knew it was this bad. The city has spent the past six months developing plans for a water treatment plant.
The project would cost $1.5 million and would likely require state or federal grants to build. Without the plant, the town could be without drinkable water for the foreseeable future. It is something McNeill says is an inconvenience for many in town, but they know the city is trying its best to resolve.
“What a lot of people don’t understand is, in a small town their financial stability is very limited and you only can do so much with what you have, so it’s going to have to be a process. It’s going to take some time because they have a lot of hoops they have to jump through to get this started, built, and finished,” McNeill said.
Councilman Lestina also said he thinks Bagley is the first of many little towns to find out there is too much manganese in their water.
The Iowa DNR tells us the only reason they tested Bagley's water is because the city’s water maintenance manager asked them to do so after an anonymous tip came in. The DNR doesn't have regulations that specifically deal with manganese, but they are currently working on a monitoring plan for the state.
The DNR says in its press release, historically, “manganese has been known throughout the drinking water community as an aesthetic issue that did not present known health concerns. However, current research is changing the way the drinking water community responds to manganese.”
That’s why the EPA recently advised the Iowa DNR to require acute public notice to public water supplies with manganese concentrations above the HAL. Bagley’s acute public notice on March 1 was the first issued with the help of the Iowa DNR.
Manganese aesthetically may cause a brown color in drinking water and may leave black deposits on sinks and bathroom fixtures.
If you are concerned about the levels of manganese in your drinking water, and you obtain your water from a public water supply system, you should contact representatives of your public water supply system and request the concentration of manganese.
Here is information about manganese directly from the Iowa DNR:
The U.S. EPA recommends that infants up to six months of age should not be given water with manganese concentrations greater than 0.3 mg/L for more than a total of 10 days per year, nor should water be used to make formula for more than 10 days per year.
The U.S. EPA recommends the general population should not ingest water with manganese concentrations greater than 1 mg/L for more than a total of 10 days per year. Much lower levels of manganese in drinking water can result in noticeable staining and taste complaints. It is for this reason that the U.S. EPA has a secondary drinking water guideline of 0.05 mg/L.
Adults drinking water with high levels of manganese for many years may experience impacts to their nervous system, resulting in behavioral changes and other nervous system effects, including slow and clumsy movements. Some studies have shown that too much manganese during childhood may also have effects on the brain, which may affect learning and behavior.
Too much manganese can increase the risk of health problems, particularly for infants under six months old. Infants are more at risk than older children and adults because their brains and bodies are quickly developing. Formula-fed infants get enough manganese from formula to meet their dietary needs. However, they may get too much manganese (above the recommended amount for nutrition) in their bodies when formula is mixed with water that contains manganese.
No concerns for Des Moines Water Works customers. To ensure safe water, Water Works pumps about 100 gallons of water a day through a pre-treatment well in order to test for several different chemicals. The utility says manganese levels have been undetectable at all three testing sites.