MONROE - Rarely do the Monroe County Commissioners do anything that generates spontaneous applause from the audience, but then the county board doesn't often get the chance to have a positive impact on the pocketbooks of thousands of homeowners from Petersburg to Carleton.
The board last week passed an amendment to the county sanitary code that - under a special deal worked out with state authorities - will allow homeowners with sulphur water to truck in their water. Before the change, they had to drill expensive wells.
“Boy, that felt good. I can't quit smiling,” an ecstatic Exeter Township Supervisor Cheryl Baltrip told the board shortly after it unanimously approved the change. “I was pretty nervous tonight. A lot was riding on this. But this was a wonderful example of the system when it works.”
Large areas of Monroe County, particularly the western and northern portions, which have sandy soils, suffer from sulphur water, forcing many homeowners to use bottled water for drinking and replace their plumbing and fixtures every few years as the sulphur corrodes them.
Last year the county board passed a similar revision to the sanitary code that allowed water storage tank systems in areas of the county that not only had high sulphur content, but also were in areas scheduled to one day get city water.
Shortly after making that revision, county leaders were notified by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality that the revision ran afoul of state health requirements, and as such would jeopardize tens of thousands of dollars in state funding if approved.
With nowhere else to turn, county board members turned to area legislators to help hammer out a deal with the MDEQ, and it worked. State Sen. Bev Hammerstrom (R., Temperance) and State Representatives Gene DeRossett (R., Manchester) and Randy Richardville (R., Monroe) set up a meeting earlier this month in Dundee that brought a slew of MDEQ officials to the area to see the problem for themselves.
Two days later MDEQ laid out the requirements under which it would grant local residents a waiver of the rule, allowing hauled water systems in Monroe County. The requirements include:
Flint Watt, head of MDEQ's drinking water and radiological protection division, told county officials that his agency also will increase oversight of licensing and inspections of local water haulers to help make sure those affected residents receive safe drinking water.
The variances will not be available county-wide, but only in an area served by what is known as the Silurian-Devonian aquifer, which carries concentrations of sulphur as much as 12 times the limit for normal drinking water.
The aquifer, which cuts a wide swath northeast from Summerfield Township, includes portions of Dundee, Ida, Raisinville, London, Exeter, and Berlin townships.
After approving the measure commissioners thanked chairman Tom Mell and past chairman Dale Zorn for their dogged pursuit of a relief package from MDEQ for residents in those areas.
“I know people in that area have been compromised for a long time. It took a lot of time and effort to get this done,” vice-chairman Bill Sisk said.