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Something's rotten in Ruskin water

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 03:56 PM
RUSKIN -

Mira Lago is an attractive gated community in south Hillsborough County. You can see why people want to live here. The homes are close to the Gulf of Mexico. Residents live near enough to Tampa's attractions but are far enough removed from the big city's hassles.

That's the lifestyle Ralph and Diane Renner wanted when they bought their 2,400-square-foot home in 2010. For a while it was fine, but last fall Diane began to notice something amiss when she turned on the cold water in her bathroom. It had a pungent smell, like rotten eggs.

I went there to take a sniff. All I can say is, uh … wow.

I asked Diane — on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being a plea for a doctor to amputate your nose — how bad the smell was to her.

"It's a 10," she said.

The Renners aren't the only family in the development with this problem. Next door neighbor Aurelia Miller has the same issue.

"I buy my water now from Publix," she said. "I don't drink the water from my tap. I don't use the ice cubes. I don't use the cold water, period. I won't let it touch my skin."

As if this wasn't mysterious enough, here's where it gets really strange. While some of their neighbors report similar problems, others tell them everything is fine. And it doesn't come out of every tap in the houses.

When the water runs for 30 seconds or so, the smell lessens a little, but the initial blast is so strong that the odor lingers in the air long after the tap has been closed.

"We were initially told there wasn't enough water flowing through the system, but I don't buy that theory," said Ralph, who has 40 years of experience as a plumber. "We run the water every day.

"The only time I've smelled something like this was around well water – that hard, limey stuff. Or it kind of smells like when you're sprinkling water on your grass."

The residents have tried solutions.

The Renners paid $250 for a plumber to flush their system with chlorine. The solution lasted a couple of days, but the stink returned. Miller said she spent $5,000 on a water softener.

"It didn't do a thing," she said. "I've called the county water department. They said it was the builder's problem. The builder said it was the county's fault."

Ralph said the county sent someone a few weeks ago to run a nearby fire hydrant for 15 minutes to see if that got rid of the mess.

It did — for about two days.

The Renners recently had company stay at their home for several days. I asked if they said anything about the smell.

"Yes," Ralph said.

I contacted the water department late last Thursday after speaking with the Renners. Ralph said a supervisor knocked on his door at 8 a.m. Friday to check out the problem and offer suggestions. As of Monday, nothing had changed.

According to Stacy Williams with the county's communication department, workers have visited the community nine times since November to flush the lines.

"That helps keep the water moving," she said.

I told Williams that residents say flushing only helps temporarily.

"As they build more homes, more water gets used and hopefully that helps the problem," she said.

Maybe. A cursory glance around the development shows a lot of houses are already built, occupied and using water. Several more homes appeared to be under construction.

For now, though, there is no definitive answer how the water got so bad or why the odor dissipates after 30 seconds or so. Then there is the question of why it only affects part of the Renners' home and skips over other parts of the neighborhood. But Miller said the stink comes from every tap in her house.

"It bothers me that there could be bacteria growing there," Diane said. "I just don't understand this. But I know one thing: I'm not brushing my teeth or washing my face in that."


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