During Michigan’s 2023 Drinking Water Week, May 7-13, filling knowledge gaps is a critical priority. Knowing the source of your drinking water is crucial, and so are threats to its safety and legal and environmental defenses to its contamination.
One surprising fact to many is that 45% of Michigan’s population drinks water from underground sources. Of that share, 1.25 million households with 2.6 million people are served by private wells; 1.7 million more people are served by community wells.
Awareness of that fact is vital for those who use well water. Unlike public water supplies, no one routinely tests drinking water from private wells for pollutants. Instead, the burden is generally on homeowners—and so is the testing cost, which can be steep.
Like all groundwater resources, private water wells are vulnerable to unseen pollution.
FLOW has documented some of this pollution in several groundwater reports, including Deep Threats to Our Sixth Great Lake. Toxic substances, nitrate, chloride, bacteriological, and other contaminants are found in private wells across Michigan. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development reports that elevated nitrate levels have been identified at 18 percent of private sites tested for nitrate, and half of these contain nitrates above public drinking water standards. Some contaminants, such as nitrate, do not affect the taste and appearance of drinking water and people can consume it without noticing.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that private well users have their water tested annually for contaminants. CDC also recommends keeping household hazardous materials such as paint, fertilizer, pesticides, and motor oil far away from wells.
Public water supplies regulate safety and contamination for Michigan residents who receive drinking water from public wells.. Federal and state Safe Drinking Water laws require regular testing and treatment of public water. Customers of public water supplies are entitled to receive annual consumer confidence reports.
Michigan divides Public water supplies into community and noncommunity classifications.
Community supplies include municipal water systems. Noncommunity systems include schools, daycare facilities, office buildings, manufacturing facilities, motels, parks, airports, campgrounds, and rest areas.
According to the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), in 2021 there were 24 violations of chemical standards in Michigan community drinking water supplies – two for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), twelve for arsenic (at five supplies), three for total trihalomethanes (at two supplies), four for haloacetic acids (at one supply), two for combined radium 226/228 (at one supply), and one for fluoride.
Among smaller noncommunity systems, there were 67 new and continuing chemical MCL violations in 2021. Thirty-one supplies incurred arsenic violations, 12 had nitrate violations, and seven were issued PFAS violations.
EGLE has additional information on drinking water testing, safety standards and more.
The dangerous lead contamination of the Flint community water supply in 2014-2015 exposed 99,000 residents of the city to this neurotoxin. Lead at unsafe levels in community drinking water was also detected in the Benton Harbor system, and the state belatedly acted to address it.
The Biden Administration has stepped up federal drinking water investments, although national and state needs are even greater. In April, US EPA announced over $6 billion in new funds for state drinking water revolving loan funds. About $3 billion of the funding will be provided specifically for lead service line identification and replacement.
It’s important to not take drinking water for granted. Becoming aware of sources and threats is vital to our health.