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DNR to continue search for source of unregulated water in Ontonagon County
April 19, 2023
Michigan Department of Natural Resources personnel are anticipating they will soon be able to continue to search for the source of an unregulated water supply near a roadside access point in Greenland Township.
The water has been used for drinking water and other needs for decades. The roadside access is located along the Bill Nichols Rail-Trail, off M-38 at the former site of Lake Mine, a historic mining community.
The source of the water has not conclusively been determined nor inspected.
However, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy must be able to determine the source of the water supply in order to begin to take the steps necessary to have it upgraded and licensed as a public water supply under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
In December, EGLE ordered the DNR to shut down a makeshift spigot and hosing used by the public to access the water.
The order set a Feb. 6 deadline to stop making the water available via the trailside flowing water outlet. The order also requires the DNR to permanently abandon the well and water system by plugging the existing well and/or plugging and discontinuing use of the existing water supply piping infrastructure by no later than June 30, 2023.
“To date, all efforts to identify and locate the source, presumed to be on state forest land (administered by the DNR), have been unsuccessful and, despite explicit signage directing people not to drink the water, the public continues to use water for consumption and other household purposes,” the order stated.
EGLE has since extended the February deadline into June at the request of the DNR, while additional attempts are made to conclusively determine the source of the water. The agency said it would consider another extension of the order, if necessary, if the DNR actively continues its water source investigation, and additional information needs to be evaluated.
An April 11 coordination meeting was held in Greenland Township where DNR and EGLE representatives met with state lawmakers and county and township officials.
The DNR has been working with the local health department, EGLE, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Ontonagon County and Greenland Township to address concerns at this site. The offices of state legislators Ed McBroom and Greg Markkanen have also been involved.
These parties intend to pursue the issue cooperatively to try to find the water source and determine what steps might be possible after that.
“We will begin our on-site investigation as soon as the snow melts and springtime conditions improve,” said Tom Seablom, DNR western Upper Peninsula district manager for the DNR’s Forest Resources Division. “With the recent warm-up that the U.P. experienced, we will likely be able to start our work at the beginning of May.”
The old unregulated water system, that has not been tested for all the required safe drinking water parameters, appears to contain nearly a mile of water line beneath an old railroad grade with piping that is in questionable condition.
Evaluation, to date, points to a historical mining borehole that created a spring, which was tapped as a water source. This site appears to lack any protections of a potable groundwater system, such as a water well casing.
Over the past few months, new information has come to light that may help determine the source of the water, including a report from a retired county mine inspector who said he could direct the DNR to the source location after the snow melts.
“If the source well construction is verified it will help determine if the well can be used in its current condition, can be modified to meet well construction standards or will need to be plugged and abandoned,” said Eric Oswald, district supervisor for EGLE’s Drinking Water and Environmental Health Division in Lansing.
Searchers will need to determine if the well is properly constructed, and the source is protected naturally. If it isn’t, the well water will need to be treated in accordance with groundwater under the direct influence of surface water regulations or properly abandoned.
Meanwhile, an advisory notice posted at the site against using the water from the roadside spigot will continue, though EGLE representatives said signage cannot be a long-term solution, only a short-term mitigation.
Another coordination meeting is scheduled for later this month.