Groundwater protection gets funding

February 5, 2011
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LANSING — Twenty-seven communities, including Clare, Gladwin, East Lansing and Meridian Township, are sharing new state grants to protect public water supply systems from contamination.

The money comes from the Department of Natural Resources and Environment under its wellhead protection program.

Michigan has more private wells than any other state, and nearly half of Michigan’s drinking water supply comes from groundwater. Michigan’s program was organized shortly after a 1986 federal safe drinking water law took effect.

According to DNRE environmental quality analyst Jason Berndt, the program is intended to aid local communities by targeting and reducing the possibility of contamination.

“What helps to reduce the threat is to delineate where the source water comes from that goes to the wells, and once they identify that area, they will do things to minimize pollution,” he said, such as plugging abandoned water wells and identifying potential sources of contamination.

“There is also a public education element,” he said.

The program has cited both the greater Lansing area and Davison for their exemplary work in community outreach.

Each year, the Tri County Regional Planning Commission in Lansing hosts a children’s water festival that attracts up to 1,500 4th and 5th grade students. Davison reaches 700 to 750 students a year through groundwater demonstrations and tours of the water department.

Wellhead programs that support such activities are funded through a 50-50 match grant. This year the state approved $298,000 in grants. Berndt said the amount is low because of the current economy and state budget problems. In previous years, the program awarded as much as $1 million.

In 2008-2009, the state gave 43 communities grants, he said. This year, 34 applied and only 27 received funds.

The East Lansing-Meridian Water and Sewer Authority received $70,000, the most in the state. Clare was awarded $1,872.83 and Gladwin received $5,500.

According to Clare’s Water and Waste Water Treatment Superintendent John Holland, the city is approaching the final of seven stages that focus on community education in its wellhead protection program. He said that’s helped keep costs lower than in previous years.

The budget “is fairly low right now,” Holland said. “It’s about $2,500 a year, and most of that goes toward education.”

“I try to concentrate on the youth of the city,” he said. For example, the city offers a free summer water camp at Shamrock Lake where children do water quality testing.

Clare’s wellhead protection zone of about one square mile is one of Holland’s main priorities because of its impact on human health.

He said that the city’s initial involvement in the state program occurred when a few of Clare’s wells became contaminated with trichloroethylene, a highly toxic liquid that is often used as an industrial solvent.

“As a result of having the wells contaminated, we clean the water before we use it now, and if there are any more impacted, they become unusable,” he said.

While Holland said the program has expanded the community’s knowledge about groundwater, Clare’s industrial past still leaves him on patrol for contaminants.

“I’ve been told that there were 42 gas stations in town at one time. So if each one had two underground storage tanks, that leads to 84 tanks that are potential sources of contamination that are high on my list for watching out for,” he said.

According to Gladwin City Administrator Bob Moffit, Gladwin began its wellhead protection program in 2007 because its drinking water, like Clare’s, is supplied solely by groundwater.

Gladwin’s program is newer than Clare’s and has a larger budget because it is not only concerned with community education but also wellhead protection area management.

The production of educational materials, advertisements for hazardous waste collection activities and staffing for a groundwater model are included in the budget. So are searches for abandoned wells and private septic systems.

In addition to the program, Moffit says that Gladwin incorporates funding from the Michigan Clean Sweep program to remove toxins from the environment by sponsoring a hazardous waste collection day. He said that 13,000 pounds of hazardous material were collected in Gladwin County last August.

“It’s all about trying to prevent contamination. We try to collect the pesticides and the old oil and the old gas so it doesn’t get dumped out somewhere,” he said. Moffit identified agricultural byproducts such as oil, gasoline and weed killers as the biggest threat to groundwater contamination in Gladwin.

Other recipients of the DNRE grants include Belding, Mason, Lansing, Plainwell, Lakeview, Potterville, Cassopolis and Coloma.

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