Thursday, October 22, 2020

New water treatment plant operational, quality may not improve for 2 years

September 2, 2020
The new Water Storage Tower on Aug. 31, 2020.
The new Water Storage Tower on Aug. 31, 2020. —
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

MSU will finally be rid of its longstanding problem with red, metallic water — kind of.

Over two years since construction started in June 2018, the main campus’ water supply was switched to the new water treatment plant and storage tower Wednesday, but it may be as long as two years for a noticeable change in water quality. The switch was announced Aug. 19, when Infrastructure Planning and Facilities, or IPF, gave a red water alert for Aug. 25 – Sept. 1. 

The water plant, located southeast of the Service Road-Recycling Drive intersection, provides chlorine and fluoride treatment, while also filtering out unwanted minerals such as iron and manganese, which have caused student complaints. According to IPF Communications and Learning Manager Fred Woodhams, these complaints about the water’s taste and frequent change in color sparked the $21 million project.

“Over the years, there have been complaints about the aesthetic qualities of the water, and university leaders took those complaints seriously and constructed this water plant to help improve the water,” Woodhams said.

Decades of sediment have built up within the university's water system, meaning it may take as long as two years to notice a change in water quality.

“It’s basically rust sediment in the pipes, and if it’s disturbed sometimes in some way that’s why we have those red water events,” Woodhams said. “It’s not necessarily going to change everything overnight.”

He said that due to the large size of MSU’s water system, it will take time to clear the sediments. Woodhams also said that IPF will be flushing the water system prior to the switch in an attempt to remove such sediments. As a result, IPF released another red water notice Tuesday to last until Oct. 1.

Although discolored, the red water is safe to drink, but its use for laundry could stain clothing, according to the Aug. 19 notice. No red water incidents have been reported to IPF since the switch.

The plant was originally scheduled to become operational in the spring after additional testing by IPF staff and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. Woodhams said the project was set back due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

MSU Information Technologist Tim Skutt recalled a time when he tried to get water from a drinking fountain in Eppley Center. He described the water as looking like tomato soup. After calling IPF, he was told not to drink the water. In his 21 years of working at MSU, this was the worst experience he’s had with a red water event. He added that the water has always had a metallic taste and that he’s looking forward to seeing results from the water treatment plant.

“I think it will be great just to not have to worry about what you’re drinking out of there due to taste or staining your clothing,” Skutt said. "It's going to save money for the long run because departments don't necessarily have to buy bottled water now."

Skutt also expressed concern over the upkeep of general campus infrastructure, saying that it seems like renovation is often overlooked. According to Woodhams, the prior water system was built circa 1950 and was expanded in the 1980s.

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