UPDATE: EGLE extends deadline to shut down Ontonagon County roadside water access site

DNR: An informal access to an unregulated water source in Ontonagon County is shown.
DNR: An informal access to an unregulated water source in Ontonagon County is shown.(WLUC)
Published: Jan. 27, 2023 at 8:32 AM EST|Updated: Feb. 3, 2023 at 11:19 AM EST
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GREENLAND TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WLUC) - UPDATE: The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy has extended the deadline to shut down a roadside water access site on the Bill Nichols trail in Greenland Township, Ontonagon County.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources asked for the extension after EGLE ordered that access to the well be closed by Feb. 6. In a letter to the MDNR released Thursday, EGLE extended that deadline to Feb. 24 and said it would also be open to approving another 120-day extension.

The extension is dependent on the MDNR committing to maintaining signage saying the water is not for potable use and that it works with local health departments to publicly communicate health concerns associated with the water.

EGLE said the specific health concern with the unregulated water source is an illegal well/source pipe that is not properly constructed into a protected aquifer.

As TV6 previously reported, an investigation failed to identify the specific source of the water. EGLE said it is possible the source is an old mine. If that is the case, EGLE said it would most likely have highly fractured rock or other direct conduits that allows contaminated surface water to directly recharge the source water in the mine.

“The naturally protective geological barriers that protect groundwater from surface water contamination most likely were eliminated through historical mining activities,” EGLE said in an email to the MDNR. “Historical mining activities also potentially contaminated the water in this mine. This situation is commonly referred to as groundwater under the direct influence (GWUDI) of surface water which requires it to be treated as surface water.”

According to EGLE, GWUDI of surface water is not safe to drink, wash or prepare food with unless property treated to protect against pathogens.

The Greenland Township Board responded to the well’s closure Friday, following news of the extended deadline.

The township stated it was never officially notified by either EGLE or the MDNR of the impending closure of the well and said township residents, as well as tourists, have relied on the well for years.

In addition, the Township Board said it has continued to ensure the water from the well is safe to drink, despite EGLE’s claim that it is not.

“Greenland Township has continued to advocate the safety of the drinking water by offering to conduct regular testing of the water in addition to tests currently administered by the MDNR personnel and the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department,” the township said. “According to reports, current and past water testing has indicated the water meets or exceeds current Michigan drinking water standards.”

Finally, Greenland Township said it has been trying for more than a year to transfer ownership of the well to its local jurisdiction and will continue those efforts.

The Township also plans to continue working with MDNR officials and Rep. Markkanen and Senator McBroom to “arrive at an amicable solution to benefit all parties and preserve a rare natural resource for generations to come.”

The MDNR said it plans to ask for the additional 120 day extension and said it anticipates EGLE will grant it.

Last published: Jan 30, 2023 12:52:24 PM

State Sen. Ed McBroom and Rep. Greg Markkanen announced the need for information regarding the public water along the Bill Nichols Trail in Ontonagon County.

According to a press release sent by Ed McBroom, the water has been used and enjoyed by the public for decades.

Recently, after an investigation failed to identify the specific source of the water, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) is requiring the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to discontinue use of the water. Michigan law requires knowledge of the source for any public drinking water. Identifying the source is the first step toward keeping the water available to the public as it has been for many years.

“Senator McBroom and I have been working with the DNR and others to try to find out the source so this great water can continue to be available to the recreating public,” said Markkanen, R-Hancock. “So far, months of efforts have not been able to confirm precisely what source the pipe is plumbed into and the history behind its existence.”

Old photographs show the pipe was supplying the water tank for the old steam railroad that served Lake Mine. The source pipe has been traced from the fountain to a hillside but it is unknown if it is an artesian well or flowing from an old mine. Digging up the pipe might destroy the functioning and quality of the water as well.

“Representative Markkanen, myself, and the DNR would appreciate hearing from anyone that knows the history of this water source,” said McBroom, R-Waucedah Township. “Finding out how and when it was installed, and that it is a true artesian well could make it legally possible for the water to still be available to the public.”

Anyone with additional information is asked to contact McBroom at 517-373-7840 or edmcbroom@senate.michigan.gov or Markkanen at 517-373-0850 or gmarkkanen@house.mi.gov.

Last published: Jan 27, 2023 8:32:42 AM

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has been ordered to shut down an unregulated water source at a roadside access point some locals have used for drinking water and other household needs for decades.

An order was issued to the DNR in December by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.

“The DNR needs to cease and desist serving water to the public by use of the trailside flowing water outlet by Feb. 6, 2023, and to provide written notice within 30 days to any residential structures served by the non-potable water supply that water service will be discontinued on or before June 30, 2023,” the order states.

The order also requires the DNR to permanently abandon the well and water system by plugging the existing well and/or plugging and discontinuing use of the existing water supply piping infrastructure by no later than June 30, 2023.

The water source supplying the public through a makeshift spigot and hosing exists at the former site of Lake Mine, a former mining community located in Greenland Township.

“This supply is providing water to the public via a flowing well outlet along the Bill Nichols Rail-Trail and is suspected of providing water for year-round use to at least two permanent residential structures,” the order states. “To date, all efforts to identify and locate the source, presumed to be on state forest land, have been unsuccessful and, despite explicit signage directing people not to drink the water, the public continues to use water for consumption and other household purposes.”

Tom Seablom, western Upper Peninsula district manager for the DNR’s Forest Resources Division, said upon the discovery of a water source that seems to originate on state land, a series of rules and responsibility is triggered.

“This is a very old unregulated water system, that has not been tested for all the required parameters and appears to contain nearly a mile of water line beneath an old railroad grade with piping that is in questionable condition,” Seablom said.

Evaluation, to date, points to a historical mining borehole, creating a spring, which was tapped as a source. This appears to lack any protections of a potable groundwater system, such as a water well casing.

“As the water supply’s source remains unknown, EGLE cannot assess its construction or location to determine that it does not pose a health or safety risk to consumers or groundwater resources,” the order states. “For these reasons, EGLE has determined that this water supply is an abandoned water well which must be plugged.

The DNR asks that anyone with historical information on the source of the water to contact : Tom Seablom 906-250-0759 or Ron Yesney, 906-228-6561.

Since the discovery of this water supply, the DNR has been working with the local health department, EGLE, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Ontonagon County and Greenland Township to address concerns with this site. The offices of state legislators Ed McBroom and Greg Markkanen had also been contacted.

Two residences appear to be connected to this supply. Multiple attempts to connect with the two lease holders have been made with no response to date.

“Several agencies have worked together for over a year to provide drinking water to those two buildings,” Seablom said.

Signs posted by the DNR alert the public that those drinking the water do so at their own risk. Several of the signs have been removed illegally by vandals and discarded.

The DNR has contacted several contractors to assist in conclusively locating the water source but have not been successful in locating a contractor with the necessary equipment. In addition, personnel from EGLE’s Geological Services Section assisted in trying to locate the water source at the site in November 2022.

“All these attempts have been unsuccessful given electrical infrastructure in the vicinity and the terrain,” said Ron Yesney, U.P. trails coordinator for the DNR’s Parks and Recreation Division. “The only remaining option would be excavation of the system, which is likely to be cost prohibitive and may collapse the line.”

In a letter to EGLE from Seablom, the DNR detailed its planned response to the order, which is to shut off water flow to the roadside access point. The DNR is asking for a four-day extension until Feb. 10 to complete the process.

The department also will discontinue service at the two residences by June 30, 2023, as ordered. As for the permanent closure of the water source, the DNR will properly abandon the source or if that is shown to be unfeasible then the piping will be cut-off at ground level and covered with rocks and other rip-rap materials. The water will then be able flow in a dispersed fashion to a nearby creek.

For more information on closures and reopening of DNR facilities in Michigan, visit Michigan.gov/DNRClosures.