After several weeks of hearing complaints about the taste and odor of water in the city of Providence, Public Works Director David May spoke out about the issue at Monday night's city council meeting, explaining that the culprit is a group of non-dangerous organism known as Iron Bacteria that were released during a December 15 water main break.

These organisms, which naturally occur in small amounts in ground water, form over time as water flows through iron-based water lines. Iron bacteria combine iron (or manganese) and oxygen to form deposits of "rust," bacterial cells, and a slimy material that sticks the bacteria to the inside of wells, pipes, pumps, waterlines and plumbing fixtures.

May explained that when the main line between the waste water treatment plant (WWTP) and the city's water tanks broke, forcing the city to shutdown service to the entire system, water was allowed to flow backwards through the main line. That backwards pressure causes chunks of the bacteria to break loose, releasing them into the water.

Iron Bacteria build-up can exist in waterlines for years without causing a problem. It is

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not until it breaks loose that it causes a problem.

Once released into the system, Iron Bacteria can cause yellow, orange, red or brown colored water, with a swampy, oily or petroleum, cucumber, sewage, rotten vegetation or musty odor.

For residents, one of the most problematic areas will be water heaters, in which deposits of the Iron Bacteria will have built up since it was released in December. May suggests that anyone concerned with the odor or possible discoloration drain that water tank.

"Right now we're just going to have to let water do what it does," he said. "We can flush the lines, but that is just going to keep the bacteria stirred up."

May told the council that the age of the city's water system has a lot to do with the amount of bacteria in the lines.

The longer water flows through the cast iron lines, the worse the Iron Bacteria build-up can be.

Providence's first water treatment plant opened in 1929, and many of the cast iron pipes in the city's system date back to that period, although officials say that some could be much older. When the city's water system came online, it inherited some older lines from the Ice Plant, which opened in the early 1920s.

City officials urge water customers to be patient.

In other business, mayor Doug Hammers announced that he was appointing retired Providence Fire Chief Brad Curry to serve as interim code enforcement officer. He will be in charge of enforcing the city's nuisance property ordinances and dealing with abandoned properties around the city until a permanent officer can be hired.

The city is currently taking applications for this part time position. Interested parties are urged to apply as soon as possible.

Providence city council members also voted unanimously on Monday night to approve the financing of a $140,000 five-year loan through Planters' Bank for the purchase of 30 new gas powered golf carts for the Providence Municipal Golf and Recreation Center (PMGRC).

The gas powered units will replace the electric carts currently in service, all of which officials say will soon be inoperable due to battery life.

Cunningham Golf Carts, which supplies the electric carts, will buy out the city's current lease as part of the new sales contract.

"We have to have golf carts," said Hammers. "We will save the city money because we expect them to last 15 to 20 years."

The life expectancy of the electric carts is five to seven years.

Council members also unanimously passed an ordinance to close a non-existent portion of St. Thomas Avenue. The roadway exists on the city's road plane, but was never developed into an actual road.

Reach MATT HUGHES at 270-667-2068 or