City to consider water filtration system


August 13, 2019


Ironwood — The Ironwood City Commission is proposing an engineering and funding search to build a water filtration system, according to discussion at its Monday meeting.

The commission meeting drew around 200 people who were mostly present to express anger that the city waited until manganese levels were discovered approaching federal Environmental Protection Agency precautionary levels to take action on filtration.

“Ultimately, the solution to this issue is filtration,” said Scott Erickson, city manager, adding that a proposal for the commission to consider would be ready in the next few weeks.

The city is contracting to clean its water storage tanks of iron and manganese buildup, he said. There would also be additional spot flushing of water mains in areas along with scheduled biannual flush events, he said.

A filtration system is estimated to cost around $2 million, Erickson said. The city commission is drafting a proposal to bring in a consulting engineering company that specializes in water filtration design to do preliminary engineering to determine options, costs and possible funding sources, he said.

Tom Flaminio, the district engineer with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, said he did not believe the city was eligible for USDA water system grants. He said the filtration system would likely mean higher water bills for the city.

John Holland, a water circuit rider with the Michigan Rural Water Association, said he inspected the city’s water system as his organization assists communities with populations under 10,000 on technical issues. A licensed municipal water operator for 29 years, he said the assessment found nothing out of the ordinary as U.P water departments in former mining communities typically show aesthetic issues and higher levels of iron and manganese.

“I saw several things that I would recommend,” Holland said.

The city currently uses a volumetric measurement to determine manganese and iron phosphates levels in storage tanks and water mains. He recommended a scale measurement to be more accurate.

In addition he said the city’s upgraded water mains replaced 6-inch pipes with 8-inch pipes that are mandated by EGLE. The transition created an issue that causes water to remain in storage and in the water mains longer and can cause iron and manganese buildup.

Manganese is not required to be tested in the state but the city is going to do quarterly testing, Erickson said. The additional EGLE and EPA water testing of 25 residences was sent off to labs and is due back by the end of the week.

“I have a gut feeling as a water operator that you are going to need manganese removal at the plant which is costly,” Holland said, who recommended filtration over the short-term solution of chemical treatment of the water.

Three residents stood at the podium with infants, saying they have called for months and years about discolored water concerns and did not have a positive response. The concerns were now about if the water is suddenly safe at a child’s first birthday.

Linda Fischer, a toxicologist with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said the EPA health advisory recommended that infants less than six months old not drink tap water with more than 300 parts per billion of manganese and 1,000 ppb for adults. The Michigan DHHS extended the advisory to children under 12 months, she said.

That reason was to account for individual infant growth rates, she said. A baby’s metabolism varies as does its ability to process manganese through the liver and prevent toxic build up in the tissues.

Other residents expressed concern about 300 ppb manganese levels on the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. Fischer said she was not aware of any research but would look into the topic.

Commissioner Rick Semi said the first time he heard of the issues was in the middle of June. He said that as someone who has been drinking faucet water for many years it took time to internalize the criticism from the public and the July report.

“It’s important to me to have clean water,” Semi said.

One resident who did not provide the council with his name, left a large water filter on the council table that was dripping with black particles that he said accumulated within a week. He said he spends $100 per month filtering the city tap water he already pays for and only uses it for bathing and laundry.

In other business the commission approved 4-0 the collective bargaining agreement with the Ironwood Public Safety Officers Association following an executive session to discuss the contract negotiations with the affiliate association of the Police Officers Association of Michigan. Commissioner Joseph Cayer was not present with an excused absence from the commission.

The three-year contract includes a 2.5% wage adjustment for the first year, a 2% for the second year and 2% for the third year, Erickson said. The contract is across the board for all nine union officers. The director has a separate contract.

“Through negotiations I think we met in the middle and came up with what I think is fair for the city and fair for the employees too,” Erickson said. “I think it was a really good negotiation between the city and the union. Everybody came to the table to resole this. Everybody had different ideas but I think where we ended up was a really good place for both parties.”


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