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San Joaquin County: It's not pretty, but Thornton's water is safe

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Posted: Friday, July 23, 2010 12:00 am | Updated: 6:02 pm, Sat Jul 24, 2010.

Rachel Simas has lived in Thornton for 30 years — despite the foul-tasting water that can soil her clothes, gang activity and a dearth of shopping opportunities.

But she enjoys her one-and-a -third acres, a vegetable garden and the room for her dogs, cats and chickens. Perhaps most importantly, her property has been paid off.

That keeps her in Thornton.

But it didn't stop her from driving to the Thornton Community Center on Thursday night to show San Joaquin County officials the water filter she removed from her sink last week. It looked more like an oil filter that hadn't been changed in a year.

Simas was one of about 30 Thornton residents to listen to representatives from the county and a nonprofit organization called Clean Water Action discuss their options.

Residents became discouraged when county Deputy Public Works Director Steve Winkler told them that residents would have to pay through the nose to construct and maintain a filtration plant in Thornton. It would cost about $800 per residence annually, Winkler said.

Five years ago, two-thirds of Thornton residents said they couldn't afford to pay more than they're already paying, Winkler said. Residents will get a chance to vote again in the fall.

Clean Water Action representatives Jennifer Clary and Virginia Madueno explained the chemistry of water and how to communicate with the county.

Madueno said after the meeting that people who want to complain about the Thornton water may call county Public Works, 468-3000, or the Board of Supervisors office, 468-3113.

Encouraging residents to voice their displeasure, Clary told residents, "Complaining doesn't mean your water rates will go up."

Winkler admitted that Thornton water sometimes has a "rotten egg smell," but he maintains that it's perfectly safe to use.

Winkler admitted that the Thornton water isn't ideal.

"Your water is safe to state standards, but it isn't pretty," Winkler said. "You probably eat 20 to 30 times as much manganese from what you eat than from the water."

The issue came up when Madueno began surveying Thornton residents earlier this year about their water quality. She added that she plans to continue going door to door to communicate with residents. "It was very informative," Simas said of Thursday's meeting. "Too bad we couldn't get anything done."

Estimated cost to filter manganese out of Thornton water system

• $1.5 million for installation ($450 per residence in Thornton). • $100,000 in annual operational and maintenance costs ($360 per residence annually or $30 per month). — Source: San Joaquin County.

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