GLWA: Cleaning caused Downriver water concerns

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

A routine cleaning procedure at a treatment plant stirred up particulates in Downriver tap water, leading to a temporary but harmless sulfur odor and taste, according to the Great Lakes Water Authority.

“The authority’s Southwest Water Treatment Facility is the primary location from which Downriver communities are served, and therefore our investigation began at that facility,” officials said in a statement.

“GLWA has concluded that the SW Facility experienced a temporary spike in turbidity levels (water with a significant amount of particulates) in the water at the beginning of the treatment process and associated with the normal cleaning of its settling basins.

“Once staff determined that the cleaning of the settling basins could be a contributing factor to the taste and odor issues, the cleaning of the basins was immediately stopped (approximately noon on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017),” officials continued. “However, some of the water treated during this time frame left the plant and entered the distribution system with sulfurous tastes and odors.”

The water quality concerns last week drew comparisons to the Flint water crisis. Lead contamination was found there and a Legionnaires’ outbreak resulting in 12 deaths has been linked to the Genesee County city’s transition from the Detroit water system to Flint River water in 2014.

But officials Wednesday emphasized that Downriver’s water is safe and “at no time were there any health or safety concerns.”

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality said it is working with the water authority to ensure the water continues to meet federal Safe Drinking Water Act regulatory standards.

“We understand the concerns being raised by residents in the affected area,” the department said in a statement.

The water authority is correcting the foul odor and taste by continuing to feed “powdered-activated carbon into the system” and by launching a “systematic flushing plan to clear the remainder of the water treated during the cleaning of the settling basins from its system.”

The water authority also is working with affected municipalities to get local systems flushed.

“GLWA will cover the cost of any volume increases associated with flushing activities in the impacted communities,” officials said.

The powdered activated carbon has been going into the system since last week, when water authority officials pinpointed high turbidity as the cause of the foul taste and odor.

Early testing showed that the water was negative for bacteria and met the Environmental Protection Agency’s Safe Drinking Water Act regulatory standards, officials said earlier this week.

The water met “water quality criteria, except for taste and odor,” water authority COO Cheryl Porter said.

Water authority officials now are putting procedures in place to prevent the incident from happening again.

“Staff (has) instituted an enhanced schedule of water-quality testing to ensure that there is not a reoccurrence of the taste and odor issue,” officials said.


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Twitter: @HollyPFournier