EGLE DIRECTOR LIESL CLARK is shown talking to Owosso City Manager Nathan Henne, along with other Owosso officials, during her tour of the Water Treatment Plant on Tuesday, April 19.
The city of Owosso has recently made a number of improvements to the aged building using some funding through both state and federal sources including grants and forgivable loans through EGLE.
Like numerous municipalities, Owosso has old water and sewer infrastructure, some of which dates back almost 100 years. Due to age and use, the infrastructure needs to be replaced. Owosso officials and staff have been working toward that end goal.
(Independent Photo/Karen Mead-Elford)
Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) Director Liesl Clark, along with Owosso city officials and staff, toured the Owosso Water Treatment Plant on Allendale Avenue Tuesday, April 19. The event was held to highlight Owosso’s ongoing effort to improve and modernize the aged water treatment plant infrastructure, along with removing lead service lines, all of which is being aided through state and federal funding.
Owosso Mayor Chris Eveleth greeted those in attendance, expressing his gratitude to EGLE as Owosso has recently been awarded roughly $4.5 million in a combination of state and federal funding toward vital infrastructural improvements. Eveleth mentioned a study the city had done that helped city council to formulate forward actions based on “recommendations we received from consultants from Baker Tilly regarding our rates in order to keep on with these upgrades. Infrastructure in this country, and I don’t think it’s any secret, is getting old, and Owosso is no exception. We have very old water lines out there. We have very old water mains out there. We have equipment at our plants that is well past its useful date that we are trying to get updated. I just want to say that we are a city with a budget of around $7 million and so $4.5 million from EGLE is a really, really big deal for us.”
Owosso City Manager Nathan Henne further outlined the funds are coming in both grants and/or forgivable loans. He emphasized the most critical issue for the city is “the replacement of 150 known lead service lines and up to 4,700 unknown and suspected lead service lines in the city. Right now, this plant has a capacity of six million gallons a day. We usually don’t realize half of that on a daily basis. We have 6,500 customers, serving 14,530 people. So, when you talk 6,500 accounts and our lead service lines are almost 5,000, that is an issue we want to correct. Unfortunately, it’s going to take quite a bit of time and money.” He mentioned that the $3 million in forgivable loans from EGLE “is really going to give us a boost, so we can get started with that and we really appreciate it.” Henne shared the $3 million will be supplemented with city funds from the water fund and will likely replace between 400 and 700 lead service lines at the start. “That’s about three years worth of service lines,” he explained, procedurally. Note: the grant and forgivable loan monies mentioned are from numerous state and federal venues.
Henne continued with, “We appreciate the help we get from EGLE and promise to put it to good use, not only as good stewards of money that we get from the state and federal government, but as good stewards of the water system for our residents here.”
EGLE Director Liesl Clark warmly greeted everyone. “This plant in particular, as well as the work across the city is a wonderful example of exactly what these dollars are meant to do,” she stated. “As we all know, water infrastructure has not been maintained in the way it really needs to be in order to protect public health and the environment in Michigan. Investments like this are a great opportunity to bring systems up to speed and make them more compliant and healthy for individuals that use them. Michigan does have the most stringent Lead and Copper Rule in the nation and one component of that is the replacement of the lead service lines. So, where there are places to find dollars and make dollars available for this type of commitment, that’s something the administration and legislature are committed to.”
In previous years, the state did not make municipalities replace lead and copper lines stemming between the street, which is generally city-owned, and a residence, which is private property – minus any right-of-ways. That fell to the property owner to replace. That has now changed, though residents need to realize it involves long-term city planning and funding.
Regarding Owosso’s Water Treatment Plant, just east off S. Gould Street, the structure dates back decades. According to the 2021 Owosso Water Quality Report, the plant treated 622 million gallons of water to over 14,459 residents in 2021. The water comes from five active groundwater wells, each over 80 feet deep. EGLE has assessed the water quality susceptibility to be high to very high. It should be noted, Owosso water staff monitor water 24/7, 365 days per year.
In touring the plant, Owosso Water Plant Superintendent David Haut pointed out a number of recent improvements including a new control panel in the filter room (above), a new backwash pump with a built in redundancy as a backup method and a lengthy portion of piping that replaced an 80-plus year old pipe that was ready to burst. The old control panels in the filter room literally resemble technology from a 1950s sci-fi film – with actual knobs and buttons from tech not made in decades. The portion of replaced piping was completely rusted and corroded.
The water plant has not suffered from negligence as much as lack of funds for updates and general wear-and-tear due to age. It is clear, water treatment plant staff has taken care of the equipment that was available to them and the plant is tidy.
Further information offered in the city report includes that Owosso has 108 miles of piping distributed within the city limits. The majority of water mains are between 50 to 65 years old, though some mains are 80 to 100 years old. The system also includes 1,950 valves and 591 fire hydrants.
Certified lab testing of city water included looking for lead and copper, cyanide, nitrate, PFAS, synthetic organic compounds (SOCs) and Total Trihalomethanes –Haloacetic Acids, along with arsenic, minerals, metals and more. The city is working to develop an updated Wellhead Protection Program (WHPP) to keep the drinking water safe from potential contamination under EGLE guidelines.
EGLE Director Clark offered an old proverb she likes referencing for current improvements to infrastructure, “When is the best time to plant a tree? Twenty years ago. When is the second best time to plant a tree? That’s today.”
Twenty years ago, the Owosso City Council might not have planted the tree, but the council today is willing to do so.