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CBS 11 I-Team Looks At What's In Your Water Tower

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DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) - You most likely don't know Ron Perrin. But next time you pour a glass of tap water, you might consider giving him and his crew a toast.

Why? Because they work to keep your water clean, as they don diving suits, strap on air masks, and jump into water towers across North Texas, scooping out bacterial sediment that sinks to the bottom of the tank after time.

While no problems have been reported here, dirty tap water from bacterial sediment has been linked to hundreds of people getting sick in Colorado. And some people have died in Missouri, according to reports.

The Environmental Protection Agency is taking notice. During a conference last month, the EPA shared pictures of water towers with improper hatches and vents, allowing mice, snakes, birds and even feces into the water.

And in North Texas, "we see wasps, geckos, lizards" in water towers, one of Perrin's divers told CBS 11 News.

CBS 11's I-Team was there when Perrin's crew climbed up a water tower ladder, more than three stories high, in Everman and dove in, using a powerful vacuum to suck up a quarter-inch of sediment that had floated to the floor of the massive tank.

"If the sediment has built up, it's a threat," Perrin said.

But the Everman job was easier than some, he said, recalling: "We've seen one North Texas town that had six feet of sediment in a water tower than was smaller than this."

"Sediment can be a home to opportunistic pathogens and if we remove that we are removing a potential hazard that can affect us later," Perrin told the I-Team.

The I-Team has found that while annual inspections are required by state law, cleanings are not. The EPA and the non-profit industry group, American Water Works Association, recommend cleaning towers every three to five years. But, the I-Team's data shows not every city is doing that.

The CBS 11 I-Team checked with more than 40 cities in North Texas.

Officials in Plano and Grapevine say water towers there haven't been cleaned in five years. Benbrook has one tower that hasn't been cleaned in seven years, according to officials in those cities.

Keller, North Richland Hills and Rockwall each have towers that haven't been cleaned in the past nine years, officials in those respective cities told the I-Team. And some towers in Richardson, McKinney, Euless, Cleburne and Azle haven't been cleaned in 10 years, according to records in each of those cities.

In Highland Village, one water tower hasn't been cleaned in 11 years. Frisco and Terrell reported having a water tower than hasn't been cleaned in 15 years. Meanwhile, officials in Weatherford say there are two water towers that haven't been cleaned since 1992.

Each city, however, said they inspect their water towers annually, including testing water quality and maintaining the right amount of chlorine to fight bacteria. They said they conduct an internal cleaning if an inspection finds that it's needed.

In its hearing last month, the EPA discussed whether water tower inspections and cleanings should be mandated nationwide. If you'd like to add your input, click here to email the agency.

The Cadmus Group is a research group collecting information for the EPA. A spokesperson with the EPA told the I-Team, "The... subsequent opportunity to submit comments are intended to collect more data and information about the frequency of distribution system water storage facility inspection and cleaning and the need for more or better risk management approaches. At this time, EPA is analyzing the information and comments received to determine what the next steps will be."

In addition, the I-Team has an interactive map that shows when water towers close to you have been cleaned.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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