Tag: drinking water

Protecting Traverse City’s Tap Water

Anyone who visits Traverse City can easily see how important freshwater is to this region. The iconic Grand Traverse Bay, numerous inland lakes and the Boardman River winding through downtown make freshwater an essential part of Traverse City’s landscape and culture. Our unique freshwater resources provide remarkable recreational opportunities that bring thousands of visitors to the shores of Traverse City every summer. One of the major benefits from our freshwater that often goes unnoticed, is its use as tap water in our everyday lives.

Even as a longtime resident who is very passionate about water, I had to ask myself, do I know where the water from my tap comes from? Well, if you live in the city limits of Traverse City, the answer is the Grand Traverse East Bay (“East Bay”). Traverse City pumps an average of 5.19 million gallons a day from East Bay to supply the growing demand for freshwater.[1] This freshwater is taken out of East Bay through a steel and wood crib that sits about 40 feet below the water surface off the Old Mission Peninsula.[2] The water is pumped to the City’s water treatment plant, then distributed through roughly 120 miles of pipes to serve an ever-growing customer base of approximately 40,000 people.[3]

Planning the Future

Given East Bay’s significant role as the source of Traverse City’s tap water, it is important for us as a community to become engaged in planning for the future of East Bay and the surrounding Grand Traverse watershed.

This is no small task. The Grand Traverse watershed is approximately 976 square miles, covering portions of Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Antrim, and Kalkaska counties, including 132 miles of shoreline.[4] However, as vast as those numbers might seem, it is imperative that we understand and manage our freshwater at the watershed level to properly care for East Bay and the source of our tap water. A Watershed is defined as an area of land that drains all the streams and rainfall into a common outlet.[5]Watershed protection is critical to the long-term health of East Bay because the majority of East Bay’s water comes from tributaries throughout the watershed, including 180 billion gallons of water per year from the Elk Rapids Chain of Lakes.[6]

Fortunately, The Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay and other organizations in the Northern Michigan area implemented a Grand Traverse Bay Watershed Protection plan in 2003.[7] The Protection Plan sets six broad goals that range from protecting the integrity of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems within the watershed to improving the quality of water resources within Grand Traverse Bay and its watershed.[8] In addition, the 2003 Watershed Protection Plan has resulted in more than $7 million worth of watershed management projects, and has “prevented more than 16,230 tons of sediment, 9300 lbs. of phosphorous and 14,940 lbs. of nitrogen from entering the Grand Traverse Bay and its watershed.”[9]

What Can You Do?

This community-driven Watershed Protection Plan plays a crucial role in our management of East Bay, helping protect against issues such as invasive species, storm water run-off, and wetland protection. The Watershed Protection Plan from 2003 is currently being updated with citizen input by the Watershed Center. Although the Watershed Center’s community meetings regarding the new protection plan have already occurred, the Watershed Center is still accepting public input until July 31st through a public survey.

Julius Moss, Legal Intern

I encourage everyone to take a few minutes this weekend, reflect on the importance of water in our area, and share your ideas and concerns with the Watershed Center. We are fortunate to have an abundance of freshwater around us, we must continue to protect our valuable resource and together as a community prepare for the future of East Bay, the Grand Traverse Watershed, and our tap water.


[1] See http://www.traversecitymi.gov/watertreatmentpl.asp

[2] See http://www.traversecitymi.gov/watersource.asp

[3] Id.

[4] See https://www.gtbay.org/about-us/watershed/

[5] See https://water.usgs.gov/edu/watershed.html

[6] Id.

[7]  The Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay, Grand Traverse Bay Watershed Protection Plan, Dec. 2003, https://www.gtbay.org/resources/watershed-protection-plan/.

[8] Id.

[9] See https://www.gtbay.org/about-us/achievements/

Embracing a New Water Ethic

In 1949, renowned conservationist and fellow Midwesterner Aldo Leopold wrote about a land ethic in a seminal piece published in his classic, A Sand County Almanac. He wrote: “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

These powerful words stir deep meaning as we contemplate the future of water in this century and tackle the growing global water crisis. According to MIT researchers, some 52 percent of the world’s projected 9.7 billion people will live in water-stressed regions by 2050. These statistics are hard to fathom and may seem a long time away. However, one thing is clear. The climate is changing as we witness unprecedented severe weather events within our own borders from successive powerful hurricanes to bomb cyclones to long-term droughts to massive flooding. And our century-plus-old water infrastructure systems are taking a beating.

This brings me to my main point. When it comes to the future of water, there is one thing on which we all can agree: all humans need access to clean, safe, affordable drinking water.  

So how do we get there? How do we embrace a new water ethic that values water above all else? These are the vitally important questions that we as citizens of the Great Lakes must ask ourselves because we are stewards of 20 percent of the planet’s fresh surface water.

As a first step, let’s take stock of the numerous wake-up calls here in the Great Lakes over the last three years. Top of mind is Flint’s horrific lead crisis, Detroit’s ongoing water shutoffs, Toledo’s toxic algae water emergency, and growing cases of legacy groundwater contamination sites across the region (e.g., Wolverine). What all of these avoidable tragedies have in common is our collective failure to safeguard our drinking water sources. We can no longer afford to have a relationship with water where we treat it as a commodity or industrial dumping ground. Time has run out.

Logically, a water-rich region like the Great Lakes would have a deeply ingrained water ethic. On the other hand, maybe it’s the very fact that we have so much that causes us to take water for granted. Nevertheless, the moment has come for us to embrace a new water ethic; one that places water at the center of all decisions about food, energy, land-use, transportation, and community.

Liz Kirkwood,        Executive Director

As Leopold explains, “All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants and animals, or collectively the land.”

This must be our resolve going forward if we are serious about protecting these majestic waters.  

 


Drinking Water and a Forgotten Tragedy

Fort Gratiot County Park north of Port Huron bustles for a little more than three months of the year, from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  Large groups occupy the gazebos, families snatch up all the picnic tables, teens play Frisbee in the sand while kids rule a small playground, and the smell of cooking meat is inescapable.  These are all fairly typical of Great Lakes shoreline parks.

What distinguishes the park is a memorial.  It commemorates not a politician or general but 22 men who died for water, Lake Huron water specifically. While honoring the dead, it expresses ambivalence inherent in the fulfillment of an institutional dream that has unintended consequences.

The project that took the lives of the 22 men on December 11, 1971 had been a dream of the Detroit water department since the late 1800s.  The water supplied by the utility’s intake in the Detroit River was adequate to meet the city’s needs, but even then, there was thought of population growth to the north.  That would require more water.  By virtue of both proximity and quality, Lake Huron was the choice for the new water source. A point five miles offshore from what is now the county park was chosen for the intake.

The memorial consists of three features:  a plaza of bricks etched with the names of the loved ones who perished in the disaster and other individuals and groups who purchased and contributed them; the statue of a symbolic project worker; and a state historical marker.  The last is especially noteworthy.  It is literally two-faced. The two sides of the marker could not be more different in tone.

One side stresses the tragic human losses and the terrible power of the explosion: “… [A] shotgun-like blast claimed the lives of twenty-two men working on a water intake tunnel beneath the bed of Lake Huron. A pocket of methane trapped within a layer of ancient Antrim shale fueled the explosion.  An exhaustive inquiry determined that drilling for a vertical ventilation shaft from the lake’s surface had released the trapped gas…The blast created a shock wave with a speed of 4,000 miles an hour and a force of 15,000 pounds per square inch. Witnesses reported seeing debris fly 200 feet in the air from the tunnel’s entrance.”

The other side emphasizes the project itself as a triumph of humankind: “In 1968, to serve the water needs of a growing population, the Detroit Metro Water Department began work on the Lake Huron Water Supply Project. This massive feat involved erecting a submerged intake crib connected to a six-mile intake tunnel beneath Lake Huron. The mechanical mole that dug the 16-foot wide tunnel bored through the bedrock beneath the lake at a rate of 150 feet a day. The project excavated more than one billion pounds of rock. The water treatment plant pumped clean water into an 82-mile system of water mains supplying Detroit and Flint. When finished in 1973, the $123 million system boasted a capacity of 400 million gallons a day.”

One has to wonder whether this mentality was partially culpable.  Pride in a monumental public works project may have promoted hubris, or contributed to denial by the managers if someone pointed out the danger.  Carelessness or ignorance may also have been to blame.  Whatever the cause, 22 people tragically lost their lives in the public service of providing clean drinking water.

Natural forces always surprise us, be they large lakes or ancient methane.


An Overview of the Flint Water Crisis

By Meredith Murray, FLOW intern

What are regulatory agencies doing to fix the problem?

Currently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is conducting an investigation over the steps taken to address Flint’s drinking water issues following State Representative Dan Kildee (D-Flint) and State Minority Leader Jim Ananich’s (D-Flint) written requests. Along with the EPA investigation, Michigan legislators are pushing for a review of the controversy over the EPA’s oversight on Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ).

State Representatives Sheldon Neeley (D-Flint) and Phil Phelps (D-Flushing) assert that MDEQ withheld information on the water quality from the Flint River in order to meet federal drinking water quality standards. The legislators are also requesting for the dismissal of Dan Wyant as the Director of the MDEQ.

What went wrong?

Flint’s drinking water crisis began in April of 2014 when the city of Flint decided to stop receiving their drinking water from the Detroit water supply. The plan was to switch over to a new water supplier (Karegnandi Water Authority). The high water rates imposed on Flint residents and budget cuts in the Flint financial management plan were the reasons behind the switch in suppliers.

But there was a problem: Karegnandi will not be done constructing their new water lines to draw water from Lake Huron until sometime in 2016. In the meantime, Flint officials decided to temporarily draw their drinking water from the Flint River. However, as soon as the switch was made from the Detroit water supply to the Flint River, Flint residents complained about the odor and coloration of their drinking water.

Resident complaints grew, and ‘boiling advisories’ were soon issued to kill off harmful bacteria  in the water due to the aging water lines. Water tests soon revealed high levels of a chlorination byproduct linked to cancer and other associated health problems.

Even with the drinking water advisory notices, residents were told by city officials that the water was safe to drink.

In September of 2015 – over a year after extracting water from the Flint River – a group of researchers from Virginia Tech tested hundreds of water samples and found 40% of the samples to contain high levels of lead. Due to the corrosive nature of the Flint River water, lead from the aging pipes was leaching into the City’s drinking water, and blood tests of Flint children showed elevated lead levels.

These results clearly indicated that Flint had to stop receiving their drinking water from the Flint River, and reconnect to the Detroit water supply. The switch was made October 16, 2015 to the Detroit water supply with the help of $9.35 million authorized by Governor Rick Snyder.

Is the problem fixed?

The problem to Flint’s water crisis is not resolved. Even after three weeks with the city of Flint reconnected to the Detroit water supply, advisories are being given to hold off on drinking the tap water unless there is an installed water filter. Leaching of lead into the drinking water from old pipes is still possible because the protective layer to prevent corrosion in the pipes is worn away.

Flint residents are also facing the issue of water shutoffs. Many Flint residents stopped paying their water bills once they found out their water was not drinkable. But after Flint reconnected with the Detroit water supply, the city started notifying those residents that they will issue shut offs if bills are not paid.

For up-to-date information on the Flint water crisis you can visit: http://flintwaterstudy.org/