There’s something in the water at the Tooele County Detention Center — and it’s corroding and plugging up fixtures at the facility.
Recent repairs on the jail’s dishwasher rang up a bill of about $5,000 on the $35,000 piece of equipment, according to Tooele County Facilities Management Director Mark McKendrick. Tooele County Sheriff Lt. Ray Clinton said the buildup in the dishwasher was clogging up water flow and rendered the equipment useless without replacement parts.
“It was filled with so much grime and stuff it was like a rock,” Clinton said. “… They couldn’t chisel it out, that’s how hard it was.”
Due to mounting problems with the water quality at the detention center, which is supplied by Tooele City’s water system, McKendrick requested $250,000 for additional fixture repairs and a new filtration system to try and improve the water, while reducing damage to the facility during a public hearing at the Nov. 16 Tooele County Commission meeting.
It’s not just the dishwasher that’s feeling the effects of mineral buildup and corrosion, however. Clinton said at least a dozen toilet units have been replaced due to the water situation and more minor repairs are a weekly occurrence. The jail uses stainless steel sink and toilet combination units, which cost between $3,500 and $4,200 each, according to McKendrick.
The single-piece units are accessed through ports in the side or back of the fixture and it can be difficult to reach all parts of the plumbing in the unit, according to Clinton.
“It’s not like you’re at home and a plumbing fixture breaks where you can just fix it,” he said. “You have to lock down the jail to get maintenance in there; we have to move people out of cells. As we’re filling up, it makes it difficult to move people around.”
There were 155 inmates at the jail as of Friday, including 42 federal inmates, according to Clinton.
Beyond the toilets, the laundry room and other areas with high water flow have seen issues, including the swamp coolers at the facility.
“Even just changing the pads in the swamp coolers,” McKendrick said. “I mean, two weeks later they’re plugged again.”
McKendrick said the scaling and mineral buildup is a concern but the corrosion is an unexpected effect of the hard water.
“It’s a little of both,” he said. “Stainless steel isn’t supposed to corrode.”
Lime is suspected to be something of an issue, due to the scaling. McKendrick said maintenance workers aren’t completely sure what minerals are involved in causing the plumbing problems. The maintenance worker assigned to the jail usually has to fix water-related issues at least once or twice a week, and the flanges in every toilet in the facility have been replaced at this point, he said.
McKendrick thinks one potential cause of the problem is there is no loop at the end of the city’s water system into the facility, so it’s the end of line in that direction.
The detention center, which was built in 2011 at a cost of $25 million, has a water softener for the entire facility but it hasn’t been able to remedy the situation, according to Clinton. He said it’s likely the extent of the water problems weren’t known when the facility was built.
“It’s a pretty big piece of equipment out there and you would think it would have solved the issue,” Clinton said. “There’s something getting through that the water softener is not fixing,”
McKendrick said the county goes through about a pallet of salt monthly in the water softener but it has caused little effect on the water quality.
Once the problem is identified, McKendrick said the $250,000 request, if granted, will be put toward final repair and replacement on fixtures and a new filtration system. He said it will be a priority at the beginning of the year, with it taking about two months to receive bids and get a new system in place.