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Whitmer declares state of emergency for Lapeer, Macomb, Oakland, St. Clair counties after water main break

Hayley Harding Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Sunday declared a state of emergency for Lapeer, Macomb, Oakland, and St. Clair counties following a water main break near the Great Lakes Water Authority’s Lake Huron Water Treatment facility.

The 120-inch water transmission break initially caused a boil water advisory for nearly two dozen communities Saturday, and water officials say it could be about two weeks before it will be fully repaired.

Whitmer said the state is drawing on every resource available to aid families who are affected.

“On Saturday, I activated the State Emergency Operations Center to coordinate our response efforts, and with (Sunday's) state of emergency declaration, we are ensuring that state resources will be available as long as the impacted communities need them. In times of crisis, Michiganders stand together. We will do what it takes to get through this," Whitmer said in a release.

Construction workers build an access road to a farm field in Burtchville Township on Sunday behind three, 120-inch cement and steel couplers at the scene of the Great Lakes Water Authority's water main break on Metcalf Road, one mile west of the the authority's Lake Huron Water Treatment Facility in Fort Gratiot.

The declaration authorizes Michigan State Police, Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division to coordinate state efforts. The coordinators are on the scene with local emergency management officials and supporting emergency operation centers, Whitmer said Sunday.

"It’s vital that our residents have reliable and safe infrastructure, our water infrastructure is essential,” Sen. Mallory  McMorrow, D-Royal Oak, said.

Authorities were awaiting a part to repair the break, said Michelle Zdrodowski, spokesperson for GLWA. The repair will take roughly a week, Zdrodowski said, and it will be another week for water-quality testing.

The water main break occurred roughly a mile west of the Great Lake Water Authority's Lake Huron Water Treatment Facility in Ford Gratiot.

Zdrodowski said teams worked through the night to try to repair the damage from the broken water main, which was discovered early Saturday.

Crews have isolated the break, which is roughly a mile west of the Lake Huron Water Treatment Facility, and are in the process of "dewatering" the area in preparation for repairs. There are four, 8-inch pumps working to remove water, she said.

"The good news is we do have that new piece of pipe for the replacement and repair, it is on the road to us from Texas," she said. 

The authority is investigating the cause of the water main break. It is not yet clear how much the break and subsequent repairs will cost.

On Sunday, a precautionary boil-water advisory was lifted for five more communities: Chesterfield Township, Lenox Township, Mayfield Township, Macomb Township and the village of New Haven.

Seven communities with a total population of about 133,000 remain under the boil-water advisory:

  • Village of Almont
  • Bruce Township
  • Burtchville Township
  • Imlay City
  • Rochester
  • Shelby Township
  • Washington Township 
Areas affected by the GLWA water main break

Water pressure was restored Sunday to the communities by changing the direction water is pumped in the transmission system, the authority said. While not at normal levels, the water flow will be adequate to use for sanitary purposes, it said.

“GLWA understands the real-life impact that this water main break is having on the ... people in the affected communities and we truly appreciate their patience and understanding as we work to implement the necessary repairs,” Suzanne R. Coffey, chief executive officer said in a news release.

The break initially was reported to potentially affect 935,000 Michigan residents in the 23 communities, but due to the response, Whitmer said, the impact is significantly lower than projected. 

Whitmer activated the state's Emergency Operations Center at 4 p.m. Saturday "to ensure that every possible resource is available to GLWA and the impacted communities to accomplish that goal."

Residents under the boil-water advisory are advised not to drink their water without first boiling it for at least one minute and letting it cool. When when water systems lose pressure, there is a potential for bacterial contamination.

Those bacteria are generally not harmful, the water authority said, but boiling it will ensure any harmful organisms are killed. Boiled, bottled or disinfected water should be used for drinking, washing dishes and preparing food until the advisory is removed.

The Village of Almont on Facebook on Sunday asked residents to keep water usage to a minimum as they tap a back-up well and water tower.

"The Village of Almont’s water system has not lost pressure yet, so the boil water advisory was issued out of an abundance of caution," the village said on Facebook. "Please conserve water as pressure will continue to decrease until the main break is fixed, which GLWA estimates to be two weeks. We do have the back-up well running in order to maintain pressure should that pressure begin to decrease."

Workers inspect the site of the 120-inch water main break on Metcalf Road in Burtchville on Sunday.

Washington Township Supervisor Sebastian Sam Previti said he has been working with the water authority and the Macomb County Emergency Management Team to get residents water.

"We are also working with the county and state to secure drinking water to distribute to the residents and locking down the logistics of it," Previti said. "I am also working with Clerk (Stanley) Babinski to secure water purchases as well to distribute. Stay tuned as this information is released. We ask you to please refrain from outdoor irrigation watering during this time to help with low water pressure."

Staff Writer Hannah Mackay contributed.