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Published: Wednesday, 12/6/2006

Contamination triggers look for water supply

BY BENJAMIN ALEXANDER-BLOCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

OTTAWA LAKE - Whiteford Township is fighting to clean up its water supply.

It will get preliminary engineering studies done on possible remedies within the coming months, with the hope of paying for any final work through federal loans or grants.

In June, the Monroe County Health Department found E. coli in a township-owned well that serves parts of downtown Ottawa Lake, Mich. The water contamination is confined to a cross section of households between Brown, Warren, and Railroad streets and Memorial Highway.

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, illness caused by E. coli is generally relatively minor, causing digestive problems for about a week. But in some persons, particularly children under 5 years of age and the elderly, the infection can also cause a complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome, in which the red blood cells are destroyed and the kidneys fail.

So, when E. coli was found in the 60-year-old, township-owned well, officials told residents to stop using the water.

Township officials have talked with Toledo, Sylvania, and Monroe County water suppliers, but they have been unable to find a solution to their woes.

The township has solicited the services of the Rural Community Assistance Program, a national nonprofit that provides assistance to small rural communities for water and sewer problems.

Christie Cook, who manages this agency within Michigan, said the first step is to send out a survey to downtown Ottawa Lake residents to determine their income level. If the majority of households make under $46,000 a year, then the township would be eligible for a federal grant. Otherwise, it would have to apply for a federal loan.

This U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development money would be used to fix and update the township's 1940-era water system and make improvements to the township's sewer system, township Supervisor Pam Dressel said.

At first, township officials were only looking at putting in a chlorination system. But, while chlorination would have allowed residents to use the water, they would still not have been able to drink it.

"We decided that, if we were going to fix it, it would make more sense to fix it entirely," Ms. Dressel said.

Township officials are thinking about using federal dollars to create a water filtration system that would extend further into downtown than the contaminated well's reach.

"We will never be able to give them drinking water unless we put an additional system there," Ms. Dressel said. "It will definitely be costly, but there's no way to know the exact figures until after the studies are done.

"We are doing the best we can to provide proper health standards and, because of the amount of this bacteria that has built up over the years, we can't look away from it any longer."

Contact Benjamin Alexander-Bloch

at babloch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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