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Published: Thursday, 5/17/2007

Forum tonight to focus on geology

BY BENJAMIN
ALEXANDER-BLOCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

OTTAWA LAKE, Mich. - An educational forum will be held tonight to discuss Monroe County's geology and how it can lead to the type of contaminated groundwater that plagues Whiteford Township.

The meeting will be at 7:30 p.m. at Crossroads Community Church, 6960 Sylvania Petersburg Rd. The church, along with many area businesses and residences, can no longer use its groundwater supply.

While most areas of the county have municipal water, Whiteford Township is one of the few that does not.

The township is trying to get more information about its problem so that it can apply for grants to possibly build a municipal system.

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

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 and the elderly, the infection also can cause a complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome, in which the red blood cells are destroyed and the kidneys fail.

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.

It is also awaiting advice from the Monroe County Health Department and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

At first, township officials were only looking at putting in a chlorination system, then they began discussing a filtration system, and now they are being told that perhaps creating a municipal water system is their best long-term bet to keep contamination at bay.

"Until we have some clear directions, we are waiting to see what we will do," township clerk Bernice Heidelberg said.

The presentation tonight will discuss the Bass Island Dolomite bedrock that underlies a large part of the county.

It is the same type of bedrock that contributed to the South Bass Island E. coli outbreak of the summer of 2004 that caused 1,450 people on the Ohio island to become ill.

"We have the same bedrock, so we have some of the same potential problems that they had in 2004," said Ned M. Birkey, an agriculture and natural resources educator at the Michigan State University Extension based in Monroe County. "It may help some people to know what we could be facing in the future."

The Bass Island Dolomite bedrock is light and can erode easily, causing the soil above it to collapse.

If there is not much soil above the bedrock, the soil will not provide filtration for the water, allowing more contaminants to get into drinking water.



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