UPDATE: The City of Wyoming has published a FAQ sheet about the quality of our drinking water. Go here to download the pdf.
By Victoria Mullen
By now, you’re likely aware of the Flint water crisis—residents of Flint have been using contaminated drinking water beginning in April 2014, when the city switched water sources from treated Lake Huron water via Detroit to the Flint River. The idea was to save money, but the corrosive river water, with its lower pH and higher saline content, eroded the protective coatings in household lead pipes, exposing bare metal and allowing lead to leach into the water supply.
Even though Flint residents had been complaining about the quality and odor of the water since mid to late 2014, state officials didn’t acknowledge the situation until the late fall of 2015. By then, between 6,000 and 12,000 Flint residents had already presented with severely high lead levels in their blood and a wide range of serious health problems. An outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease that killed 10 people and sickened 77 may also be linked to the change.
The crisis is both tragic and ironic. Michigan is surrounded by four of the five Great Lakes, a huge source of drinking water for many cities and towns. This never should have happened. (As an aside, the Flint water crisis has caused such an uproar that it now has its own Wikipedia page.)
Why is lead so dangerous?
It’s a heavy metal that doesn’t belong in the human body. When you ingest helpful minerals such as calcium, iron and zinc, your body distributes it to the bloodstream, nervous system, tissues and organs. The same goes for lead, which can cause harm wherever it ends up. For example, in the bloodstream, lead can damage red blood cells, limiting their ability to carry oxygen to the organs and tissues. This can cause anemia. In the brain and nervous system, it can be disastrous.
Lead is particularly dangerous to children because their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults do, and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. The kids in Flint affected by this crisis will have lifelong health and learning deficits.
We take a lot for granted
At the turn of the 20th century in the U.S., the life expectancy for men was only 48 years; for women, it was 52. Compare that to 75 and 80, respectively, in 2000. Common outbreaks of waterborne diseases such as typhoid fever, cholera and dysentery took a huge toll on human life.
The addition of chlorine to drinking water in 1908 resulted in a dramatic decline in fatalities from waterborne illnesses.
And we use a lot of water
Just turn on the tap and voila!, safe drinking water, right? Since 1966, City of Wyoming’s water treatment capacity has grown from 32 million gallons per day to 90 million gallons per day. We sell some of the water to Kentwood, Byron Center and Gaines Township, so as a bonus, Wyoming residents pay less for their water than Grand Rapids residents do. Plant improvements have occurred over the years to accommodate continued growth in the region. As changes in our region occur, the Drinking Water Plant will continue to evolve.
Five years ago, Wyoming’s Lakeshore water plant north of Holland pumped about 30 million gallons to more than 220,000 users in 13 communities each day. Water use varies with the seasons; more water is used in the hot summer months. In 2011, Wyoming spent $73 million expanding the plant, increasing the daily capacity to 120 million gallons—an annual capacity of about 44 billion gallons.
While the City of Wyoming is responsible for providing high-quality drinking water, it cannot control the variety of materials used in household plumbing. When your water has been sitting for several hours, you can lower the risk of lead exposure by flushing your tap for 30 seconds to 2 minutes before using water for drinking or cooking.
Could a Flint-like crisis happen to us here in the City of Wyoming and Kentwood?
The answer is no, and here’s why: We’ve been using Lake Michigan as our source for drinking water since 1966 and will continue to do so. The water is treated before it reaches your tap.
In order to ensure that tap water is safe to drink, EPA prescribes regulations, called Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) that limit the amount of certain contaminants in our drinking water. Wyoming’s water treatment process provides multiple barriers, including clarification, filtration and disinfection, to lower the risk of contaminants in finished tap water. In 2014, monitoring of treated water samples from the lakeshore treatment plant yielded a 100% contaminant removal rate, highlighting the effectiveness of the treatment system in microscopic particle removal.
Testing is also performed to detect the presence of Cryptosporidium and Giardia, which are protozoan parasites that occur in natural surface waters such as lakes, rivers and streams.
Each year, the City of Wyoming sends out a water quality report to its residents. In 2014, water quality met and exceeded all state and federal guidelines for safe drinking water.
For more information about our drinking water, go here.