TRAVERSE CITY — A failure in the city’s drinking water treatment system that occurred during the National Cherry Festival went unreported for almost a month.
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials issued the city a Significant Deficiency Violation Notice for incidents on July 5 and July 31, when the city failed to use enough coagulant to filter out a pathogen that can cause diarrhea. The more serious incident occurred on July 5 because of a pump failure.
A DEQ official said the incidents should have been immediately reported. The failure was not considered a threat to public health because the pathogen generally is not present in the area of East Bay, from which the city draws its water.
City commissioners learned of the problem on Monday, as did officials from Elmwood, Garfield, and Peninsula townships who buy water from the city.
“I’m a little surprised it took this long to surface,” said Commissioner Jim Carruthers. “They are going to notify the public now. Shouldn’t that have been done two months ago?”
Had city officials notified the DEQ in a timely manner, the agency would have ordered an increase in chlorine level and a partial flush of the system, said Brian Thurston, district engineer for the Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance in the DEQ’s Cadillac office.
DEQ officials would have issued a public notice at that time.
On July 5 city workers discovered that a pump that delivers alum to the city’s water treatment facility had failed. Alum works to coagulate microscopic giardia lamblia cysts into a mass that can be filtered out of the water.
If ingested, the cysts latch onto the small intestines and cause giardiasis, also known as “travelers diarrhea,” because of its prevalence in nations with less developed water treatment systems, according to the Mayo Clinic’s web site.