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“This is a crisis”: Gladwin Co. well problems mount in aftermath of May floods

583 wells have run dry or become unusable since June
Published: Oct. 15, 2020 at 11:23 PM EDT
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GLADWIN CO., Mich. (WJRT) (10/15/2020)-Major problems stemming from that May flooding remain in Gladwin County: access to water.

In the wake of the flooding and a draw-down to save the remaining dams, the county is staring down a sinking water table and hundreds of wells with major problems, even affecting two local fire departments in Billings and Secord Township, both of which had to drill new wells to meet their needs.

A newly capped well at the Secord Township Fire Hall marks just one of the many projects underway in Gladwin County. The department had to drill it because it didn’t have any access to water. Those are the stakes for this community.

“I’m looking around. I go, ‘where do you get your water from?’ He said, ‘well, we used to get it from that lake.’”

But Secord Lake’s water levels are now so low, fire crews don’t even have equipment capable of reaching that far down the shoreline. Gladwin County Commissioner Joel Vernier recalls the rest of an eye-opening conversation with fire officials.

“'Where are you getting water from… we have to drive to Gladwin at the fire hall there, fill up and then drive back.' That’s about an hour trip,” he explained. “When you’re dealing with a fire and time, you’re going to lose either property or lives.”

So, what about the fire hydrants? This reporter found one at the end of Norway in White Star. Rendered useless by the draw-down, the hydrant is now just an air-filled pipe hanging above the lake bed.

“This is a crisis,” Vernier said.

As of Thursday, Gladwin County Emergency Manager Bob North’s office had its hands full tracking 583 problem wells. To put that into perspective, when this reporter first began looking into this story and making calls several weeks ago, that number was under 400.

“It’s a big number and it ranges from the breach site to the Tobacco River, as well as up into the Titabawassee all the way up to Secord Lake,” North related.

The issues range from wells running dry to low pressure and bacterial growth--problems brought on by that May flooding, a sinking water table and efforts to stave off catastrophe at the remaining dam sites.

“There was a subsequent draw-down, which was necessary because of the potential dangers to the other dams above,” North explained. “All these things came into being and here we are.”

North says they haven’t had any problems with new wells and that he hopes that trend holds. His office is now focused on the task of collecting data from individual affected households.

“I can’t put a timetable on it,” North said. “This is not quick stuff. You know, I told everybody the first day… of this disaster, this is a long haul event.”

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