Dam break swept out water supply for more than 300 wells in Midland, Gladwin counties

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

More than 300 wells in Midland and Gladwin counties have come up dry and others are reporting low water pressure in the fallout from historic flooding and a dam breach on the border of the counties. 

While the cause remains under investigation, officials said they believe the wells likely were shallow constructions tapping surface water near the lake shore whose water source was swept out when the Edenville Dam broke May 19 and drained Wixom Lake. 

"It was the people that were on the lakes that were dammed up," said Charles "Buddy" Sebastian, a licensed well driller and president of the Michigan Ground Water Association. "When the dams gave way, it took all the water with it so now their wells are dry.”

A man looks over at what is left of the Edenville Dam at Wixom Lake on May 21.

The state also is exploring other causes, such as sediment buildup, damaged well heads and power failures, said Nick Assendelft, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday outlined the problem to President Donald Trump in a request for a major disaster declaration for five Michigan counties that sustained $245 million in damages in the flood. 

The dried-up and low-pressure wells have spurred local communities to provide bottled water to affected homes, but that hasn't waylaid other concerns in Gladwin County, Whitmer said. 

"Water for fire suppression was formerly drafted from waterways which are now depleted," the governor wrote in her Monday letter. "Without access to water, water tanks had to be procured for local fire departments to ensure their readiness to respond to fires."

In Gladwin County, more than 250 wells that have dried up are being mapped and surveyed, with the shallower wells proving most susceptible, Gladwin County Emergency Manager Bob North said. 

In Midland, between 50 and 100 wells are experiencing similar problems, said Fred Yanoski, director for the Midland County Health Department. 

"A properly constructed well that draws from the aquifer should not be affected by the draw down," Yanoski said. 

"We believe that around the lake there are probably some older, shallower wells that were using the surface water as their water rather than the aquifer."

Several of those with dried-up wells have chosen to connect to the municipal system, an often cheaper option than drilling a new well, Yanoski said. 

Drilling a new well deep enough to connect to the aquifer can cost $4,000 to $10,000, Sebastian said. 

And that's not the only challenge for affected Midland area residents. 

In the days after the flooding, the Michigan Ground Water Association was warning people to test their wells for bacteria and nitrates in case the flood waters had submerged the well head and deposited contaminants. 

Roughly 20% of the wells tested so far in Midland County have been found to be contaminated, Yanoski said. 

Free testing is available through Midland County by calling (989) 832-6380, while similar testing is available through Gladwin County by calling (989) 426-9431 ext. 1330.