Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Montreal water system work nears completion


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MONTREAL, Wis. — A major water system project to improve water quality and capacity for the city of Montreal is nearly complete, according to Mayor Erik Guenard.

“We are probably 90% complete with it,” he said. 

The project has so far come in under the $130,000 estimate, he said. The only major work left to complete is a mixer for the water tower.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is overseeing the project, he said. Everything was moving forward satisfactorily as of the most recent compliance meeting. 

“We are waiting to hear back from the vendor to install a water tower mixer and once that’s done the project will be complete,” Guenard said. “What we’re hoping is that all of these things will increase the water capacity that the city of Montreal has so that we can provide water to Pence, to Montreal and to the city of Hurley.”

The work was necessary after a 2016 inspection found that water system equipment in Montreal was either antiquated or no longer working. One of the city’s two wells was shut down in 2015 after developing tannins, which are organic carbon problems from a water quality problem in the aquifer that was further complicated by disinfection issues.

“We only had one well operating for many years, which was Well No. 3,” Guenard said. 

Well No. 5 produced water but it ran dry during a drought season which contaminated the bottom of the system, he said. The screen was plugged up and that brought in a lot of heavy metals and iron into the water system, he said.

The update project included back flushing Well No. 5 until it ran clean along with repairs to the pump and motor to bring it up to contemporary standards. The water quality was tested, approved and the well was restored to service.

With Well No. 5 back in service the city took Well No. 3 offline to flush the system out and clean the well head, he said. A suction pipe was replaced and system monitoring equipment was repaired and updated.

“That well passed the DNR water quality test and is now back online,” Guenard said. 

With both wells kept running, there is a reserve water supply for the first time in years, he said. Both wells will be kept running to prevent stagnation.

Another major update was the control systems for the chemical agents. Chemicals had been added based on scheduling where now there is electronic monitoring and automatic dispersal based on the quantity of water coming out of the wells.

“So, it’s asynchronous, where before it was just meter set and would just disperse a certain amount of chemical at a certain time,” Guenard said. “It was well within the range limits but this is much more beneficial at this point in time.”

The mixing tower is basically a bubbler that aids in chloroform volatilization and addressing disinfection byproduct issues to improve water quality. The constant movement helps maintain consistent temperatures and prevents freezing in winter.

“That will increase our water quality also, which is monitored by the DNR and will keep us in compliance,” Guenard said.

The purpose of the project is to find the most cost-effective way to continue providing quality water for the cities of Montreal, Pence and Hurley, he said. The increased capacity to sell more water to Hurley will help to fund the loan payments for the project.

“It’s very unusual to have a city the size of Montreal have their own water distribution system and their own septic cleaning system,” Guenard said. “Neither the city of Hurley or Pence have either of those two.”

A small city with a big water distribution system is sometimes a double-edged sword, he said.

With more infrastructure comes more maintenance. The city can only afford so many employees for the Montreal Public Works Department and Mark Haeger and Jesse Olson serve as the water managers along with other duties.

“We have only two employees who are responsible for two municipal sewer, septic and water systems and also all the other pieces associated with road maintenance,” Guenard said. “It’s a fine line and a fine dance that we play but the two employees that we have are skilled at what they are doing and they’re doing a phenomenal job in my opinion in being able to maintain two large systems for multiple communities and also take care of the city of Montreal.”

Guenard would ideally like to have more employees. But there is the reality of small town budgets, he said.

There was a tentative agreement with Hurley for a minimum of 20,000 gallons per day and the agreement will be discussed again with the new administration, he said.

“That was a standing agreement with the last mayor,” he said. “They’ve been purchasing water from us and it’s been a great cooperative relationship at this point.”

Hurley once had its own surface water plant south of town at Lake Lavina until it was closed in the 1980s and the city got its water from Ironwood, according to Gary Laguna, Hurley water manager, in an earlier interview. When the state conducted a major project to update Wisconsin 77 a water line was installed between Hurley and Montreal in 1977.

The line was designed as a backup for times when great volumes of water are needed immediately such as for fire suppression and flushing hydrants. Ironwood still provides the bulk of Hurley’s water but the city started buying small amounts from Montreal after 2006.

The Montreal water rate to Hurley is set by the Public Service Commission in Wisconsin. Michigan does not have state commission regulated water rates and the Ironwood contract with Hurley is a flat rate for up to 75,000 gallons per day.

Ironwood will remain Hurley’s primary source of water based on its capacity to deliver around 3 million gallons a day, Laguna said. Montreal could not provide the total volume required in addition to the sudden demands with the 8 inch water transmission line that can push a maximum 500 gallons a minute.

Montreal provides a minimal volume of around 7,000 gallons a day to Pence.