GLWA implements new policies after water concerns

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

The Great Lakes Water Authority is implementing new policies and training at its treatment plants after a basin cleaning at one facility this month prompted odor and taste concerns in water Downriver.

The authority on Thursday made public a finalized report detailing the incident and “corrective action plan” after it hosted a roundtable the previous Friday regarding the water-quality concerns of Downriver communities.

In its report, the authority said the principal cause stemmed from the cleaning at the Southwest Water Treatment Plant in Allen Park. During the process, there was an increase in turbidity, the cloudiness of the water based on particulate levels that likely was exacerbated by an “overtaxed” piece of equipment, the report says.

But the authority reiterates that at no time were there any health or safety concerns related to the water distribution at the plant, one of five it operates. Additionally, repeated testing shows the water met or surpassed the authority’s internal standards as well as the EPA Safe Drinking Water Act regulator standards.

Residents in Allen Park, Dearborn Heights, Taylor and other nearby communities reported cloudy and sulfur-smelling water coming from their taps this month. In total, GLWA received 119 customer complaints from the 37 communities served by the plant from Jan. 11-19.

The concerns prompted government officials to send letters out to calm fears, especially in the wake of the lead-tainted water crisis in Flint.

While residents Downriver were never at risk, GLWA CEO Sue McCormick said the circumstances in Flint were “very unfortunate” and any water concerns cannot be taken lightly.

The report notes basin draining began Jan. 7. However, during the process the turbidity spike took place. After the issues were identified, the basic cleaning was suspended. The authority added carbon to the system and began flushing it to clear the water.

“After GLWA’s thorough review and investigation of the matter, we have identified that the spike in raw water turbidity (particles in the water) was the (principal) cause of taste and odor concerns in the water in Downriver communities,” the report says, adding that due to the conditions the thickener was overtaxed and particulates were able to flow back to the head of the treatment plant.

To prevent the issue from recurring, the authority said it is suspending the current draining process at the plant and will solicit a contractor to do the work.

Additionally, a new training guideline will be developed for workers at the water plants and a communications protocol will be in place to reach customers.