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GLWA: Downriver water issue no health hazard, resolved

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Detroit — Cleaning a water treatment plant basin is the likely cause of water quality concerns in Downriver communities that arouse last week, officials with the regional water authority reiterated Friday.

They also said at no time did the incident pose a threat to the public’s health.

“It’s really regretful that this has been experienced by some customers in municipalities Downriver,” said Sue McCormick, CEO of the Great Lakes Water Authority. “However, I think it’s really important to clearly state that while we are working on the aesthetic issues with the water, the water has been safe to drink 100 percent of the time, as confirmed by all of our testing.”

McCormick made the remarks during a news conference Friday at the offices the authority shares with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department in downtown Detroit.

She was joined by Cheryl Porter, the authority’s chief operating officer of water and field services. The meeting was called to discuss the incident.

Last week, some residents in Allen Park, Dearborn Heights, Taylor and other nearby communities reported cloudy and sulfur-smelling water coming from their taps. Porter said the authority has about 900,000 customers in those communities. It received 119 calls complaining about the water and one of those turned out to be a problem with the home’s hot water tank, she said.

Government officials sent letters to calm fears, especially of those concerned the issue was similar to problems that led to the Flint water crisis three years ago.

Flint switched from Detroit’s water system to the Flint River in April 2014 for its drinking water, which was followed with lead contamination and a Legionnaires’ outbreak resulting in 12 deaths.

McCormick also addressed those fears Friday.

“We understand in Michigan we’re the epicenter of the breach of public trust in public water supplies,” she said. “We appreciate the fact the public is concerned, but this was a short-term event. We’ve addressed it and we’ve restored the quality of water. That’s significantly different than what happened in Flint.”

McCormick also said if any residents have any concerns about the odor or taste of their water, they should call their local municipal water department immediately.

Downriver’s recent water quality issues prompted communities and the authority to further test the water.

On Monday, authority officials said test results were negative for bacteria and showed the water met federal safe drinking water standards.

Jeff Raymond, science officer for Paragon Laboratories, which was contracted to analyze the water, said its tests didn’t detect any sulfides — which would cause an “eggy,” sulfur smell — in it.

“There was no evidence of sulfurous compounds being in the water we tested,” he said.

Porter added the authority regularly tests the water to ensure it’s free of contaminants. For example, she said, tests are conducted on chlorine levels and turbidity, or cloudiness, every hour. Fluoride tests are done every four hours and E. coli tests are run every two hours.

Results of those tests are submitted to the state’s Department of Environmental Quality monthly, she said.

Established in 2014, the Great Lakes Water Authority provides water and waste water services to 126 municipalities in southeastern Michigan. The authority was created when officials with the state, Detroit, and Oakland and Wayne counties agreed to turn over Detroit’s water and sewer system to the authority under a deal stemming from the city’s bankruptcy.

It assumed control over the Detroit system in January 2016 and has a contract to lease it for $50 million per year for 40 years.

Authority officials said Wednesday the cloudy and sulfur order was caused on Jan. 7 by a routine cleaning procedure in a sediment basin at treatment plant the authority operates in Allen Park.

In the wake of the incident, Porter said the authority has suspended cleaning sediment basins “until we can make sure that we do not create this situation again.”

The basin collects sediments in water drawn from the Canadian side of the Detroit River, Porter explained. She also said the basin, which was installed in 2012, is cleaned twice a year.

To correct the problem, the authority added carbon to the system and began flushing it to clear the water. Officials said the authority is working with affected municipalities to flush local systems.

Woodhaven Mayor Patricia Odette said Friday that she hasn’t received any complaints about the city’s water in the last two days since the system was flushed.

McCormick said the authority continues to investigate the cause of the problem and will provide a comprehensive report on the incident to the Downriver communities next week.

“I think what’s important to understand the root cause of the taste and odor issue has been corrected, the aesthetic issues have been resolved and there’s been no public safety health issue,” she said.

cramirez@detroitnews.com

Detroit News staff writer Holly Fournier contributed.