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'No reason to worry' about township water quality

Marie Havenga • Feb 16, 2019 at 9:00 AM

SPRING LAKE TWP. — By the book, and according to state regulations, Spring Lake Township recently violated safe drinking water standards.

But for township residents, according to township officials and the manager of the Northwest Ottawa Water Filtration Plant, there is no reason for concern.

During a routine quarterly sample from October through December 2018, a small portion of the township’s water supply along the dead-end of North Shore Estates Road showed TTHM (trihalomethanes) levels at 81.3 parts per billion, minutely above the 80 ppb allowed by state standards.

That reading was taken at a dead-end water line, just east of North Shore Park, where the road continues north. Many residents there own Lake Michigan frontage and escape to warmer climates during the winter.

There is no reason to boil water or switch to bottled water, according to recommendations. Unless you have a severely compromised immune system, have an infant or are elderly, and live on North Shore Estates Road, there is little reason to worry, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says.

Township Manager Gordon Gallagher said it was an “isolated incident.”

“We felt that this was an unfortunate technical violation,” he said. “... It was only in that area. The other areas of our township have water main loops so there is continuous water movement, and so there's always the freshest water possible.”

Gallagher said township officials may approach the state agency to request another testing site. The current sample location is near a home that is vacated for the winter and, therefore, water in the lines is stagnant.

“MDEQ wants the same location testing so the testing is always in the same place,” Gallagher said. “The challenge we have, here's a location where the person isn't even there and we're testing at the spigot at the side of their house. When we test at the hydrant at the end of the street, we're getting a level that's lower.”

As a precaution, the township Department of Public Works has been flushing the street-end hydrant on a regular basis.

Gallagher said although the state required the township to send out notices, he is confident residents outside of North Shore Estates are not affected by any water quality issues.

Gallagher said the requirement to add chlorine to municipal water can cause unintended byproducts if the water is allowed to stagnate.

“Over the course of time, the chlorine dissipates as it goes through the pipes,” he explained. “There are studies that have been done on the byproducts that are created when the chlorine dissipates. The longer the water sits in the pipe, the more chlorine byproduct that is in the finished water.”

Joe VanderStel is the water facilities manager for the Northwest Ottawa Water System, which delivers water to all six Tri-Cities-area communities. He said there is no reason for concern. VanderStel said he would feel completely comfortable drinking water from the North Shore Estates water pipes, and having his children do the same.

“When we first determined locations, (the state) wanted us to look at the worst-case scenario where water sits for a long time,” he said. “It's not a good thing when water sits. We typically have this during the winter months because we're a tourist town.”

VanderStel said that at the water treatment plant in Grand Haven, they move water within tanks just to keep it fresh. But along North Shore Estates Road, on the shores of Lake Michigan, where many affluent residents are seasonal, water is not so free-flowing.

“During the winter, it's just a trickle out there, because there's not a lot of demand,” VanderStel said. “When water sits in the pipes for a long time, there are things that can form. They form because of the chlorine we are required to put in the water. You play the game between making sure the water is safe to drink because we're trying to disinfect the water from harmful bacteria. But there are disinfection byproducts. You have to weigh it out and have a good balance.”

VanderStel said that “good balance” is set by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requirements and there is no reason for residents to worry.

“We're all trying to do the best job we can to provide the best quality of water we can,” he said. “It's an isolated problem. We're working to control it and I think we're doing a really good job.”

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