Erin Brockovich Says She's Coming to Plano as Water District Claims Everything's Normal

Environmental activist Erin Brockovich, famous for inspiring Julia Roberts' Oscar-winning performance in Erin Brockovich, is coming to North Texas. Brockovich, who blasted the North Texas Municipal Water District last week for using a common cleaning procedure, announced on Facebook on Tuesday that she's visiting Plano the first week of April with her "water guy" to test the water despite claims from the water district and the city that nothing is out of the ordinary.

Brockovich helped start a firestorm last week when she claimed that the city of Plano's water wasn't safe to drink. She says she received multiple complaints from Plano residents about their water smelling and tasting strongly of chlorine. City of Plano and water district officials said Tuesday that the city's water is perfectly safe.

"I drink the water, take showers, everything else,” Plano City Council member Rick Smith said at a council briefing with water district officials. “And I'm still here as far as I know."

At the briefing, officials from the water district repeated what they said last week — although the city's water has had a stronger smell and taste recently, there's nothing unsafe about it. In fact, there isn't any more chlorine in the water than normal, according to district officials.

The reason the water tastes different this month, said Billy George, the water district's deputy director, is that the district hasn't been putting ammonia in the water for the last month or so. Leaving out the ammonia, which typically combines with the chlorine to create chloramines, allows the same amount of chlorine that's normally in the water to clean out biofilms (scum) that have built up in the North Texas Municipal Water District system.

The process, which Brockovich calls a chlorine burnout, is used by water systems serving nearly half of United States residents, according to the North Texas Municipal Water District, which serves multiple cities in North Texas, including Plano and Frisco. This year's chlorine maintenance is the same method the district has been using for decades. The only thing that might be different this year, George said, is that less water is being used because of cooler temperatures, causing less water being flushed out of the system.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says this on its website about treating drinking water:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allows drinking water treatment plants to use chloramine and chlorine to disinfect drinking water. Water system pipes develop a layer of biofilm (scum) that makes killing germs more difficult. Water providers may temporarily switch from chloramine to chlorine disinfection to help remove this scum layer.

Jamie Stephens, who attended the meeting as a representative for a group called Safe Water North Texas, told reporters afterward that the water district officials and the county weren't taking resident's concerns seriously.

"We're having real reactions. And certainly, maybe you've done this process over and over again, but there's something about this year that is different,” Stephens said. “Something is happening, and it seemed a little minimized."

Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere said the city plans to release new water test results Wednesday.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young