21 Aug 2014
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What is the Plan if Our Water Supply Becomes Contaminated?

You ask, Patch answers.

What is the Plan if Our Water Supply Becomes Contaminated?

"You Ask, Patch Answers" is where we strive to find answers to all your questions—big, small and in-between—about the town we live and work in.

Whether it’s something you’ve always wondered about, some information you just can’t put your hands on or a sudden curiosity, we want to hear it.

Send your queries to judy.davids@patch.com or leave them in the comments section below, and I will do my best to dig up an answer for you. You also can call me at 248-231-4667.

Patch reader Susan writes: My questions have to do with the chemical spill and water situation affecting over 300,000 of our neighbors in West Virginia. I used to live in Charleston, WV and even still own property there, that I rent out. As you might imagine, my FaceBook feed is blowing up with comments, articles, and videos from my friends who live there, and others around the country who share concerns. The chemical manufacturer isn't releasing the information they have about the chemical, the water company isn't certain what a safe/acceptable level of the chemical in the water is, and residents are experiencing odors, headaches, rashes, and nausea, even after receiving the "all clear" notification. This situation has sparked the questions:

  • Where does my water come from?
  • How is my water treated?
  • What (if any) plan is there if our water supply becomes contaminated?
  • Are there any chemical sources located near our water supply?

Craig Covey, special assistant to the Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner, sent Patch the following answers to Susan's questions:

Where does my water come from?  

Oakland County residents get their drinking water from either groundwater or surface water. In some areas, communities maintain and operate large wells and a distribution system that supplies drinking water to their residents. Some residents have their own wells that serve their individual homes. In other areas, communities are served by surface water from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD). The DWSD gets all of its water from Lake Huron and the Detroit River. 

How is my water treated?

The treatment of drinking water depends on the source of the water. Groundwater may not require any treatment. In some ground water systems, chlorine is added as a disinfectant. Other ground water systems rely on water treatment plants that remove arsenic and/or iron.  Still other systems may provide softening.

The DWSD has five water treatment plants that supply water that meets or exceeds all regulatory requirements. The DWSD water treatment plants use chlorine or ozone to disinfect the water. 

What is the plan if our water supply becomes contaminated?

Operators of water systems regularly test the water at both the source and throughout the distribution system to ensure its safety. If a water supply becomes contaminated, operators work with local regulatory agencies to take all necessary steps to ensure that the water is safe to drink. Often that includes flushing the distribution lines and taking water samples. Many water suppliers rely on contractors to supply bottled water in case of an emergency.  

Are there any chemical sources located near our water supply?

When a well is drilled in a ground water system, an analysis is done to ensure it located at an adequate distance from any potential sources of contamination.

The DWSD’s source water is the Detroit River and Lake Huron. An assessment of that source was completed in 2004 to gauge the susceptibility of potential contamination. The susceptibility rating is based on a seven-tiered scale from “very low” to “very high” based primarily on geologic sensitivity, water chemistry, and contaminant sources. Although the susceptibility of the Detroit River source water intakes were determined to be highly susceptible to potential contamination, all five Detroit water treatment plants provide treatment of this source water that meets all drinking water standards. The DWSD has initiated source-water protection activities that include chemical containment, spill response, and a mercury reduction program. The DWSD participates in a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit discharge program and has an emergency response management plan. 

Whom can I contact if I have additional questions?

Please contact your drinking water supplier if you have specific questions about your water supply. 

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