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Third of water supplies not testing as required

Health department plans to crack down in the new year

ALPENA — District Health Department No. 4 will implement an action plan next year to test more non-community water supplies on a quarterly basis.

Scott Smith, who recently retired from his position as environmental health director from DHD No. 4, told the DHD No. 4 board earlier this month that about about 90 of the 300 non-community water supplies the Health Department monitors are non-compliant in their testing.

Smith said non-community water supply provides water from an on-site well to 25 or more people a minimum of 60 days a year, or has 15 or more service connections.

Such water supplies can include restaurants, hotels, campgrounds, parks, churches, and schools and are required to sample for coliform bacteria and nitrates as stipulated in the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act.

The Health Department contracts with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, according to the Health Department’s 2018 annual report, to monitor water quality, issue construction permits, and survey the water supplies to ensure compliance with state law.

“What we’re doing at the beginning of the year, we’re sending a calendar out to all of those owners or operators of those systems and letting them know when they need to sample,” Smith said. “And, six weeks before the end of each quarter we’re going to send them a postcard reminding them when they need to do their sampling. Then, one to two weeks before the end of each quarter, the secretary will be contacting the owner-operator to get their samples in before the end of the quarter.”

Smith said some of those entities are non-compliant every quarter. He said the Health Department will ask those entities to come into the office for educational training, where they can learn about the requirements and how to sample.

The only alternative, Smith said, is to get some robocalling software that could send out those messages on a quarterly basis.

Rarely in public health are there metrics that officials have no control over, Health Officer Denise Bryan said. She said the question is how to motivate people to do the testing they’re supposed to do.

Bryan said she would like to learn why some of those entities do not comply with the required testing so Health Department officials can look at how to address those challenges. She said addressing non-compliance issues requires a lot of time and energy from staff, and ultimately, impacts the health department’s budget.

“That’s a lot of busy work to chase that number,” she said. “Nobody believes in safe, quality drinking water more than the board, and all of us that have been in public health.”

Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or cnelson@thealpenanews.com.