Saline's Infrastructure Coffee Hour Highlights Water Woes


Saline City Engineer Tesha Humphriss and DPW Director Larry Sirls field questions from the audience at Mayor Marl’s Coffee Hour on Sept. 15th. Photo by Doug Marrin.

By Carleen Nelson Nesvig, STN Writer

Saline Mayor Brian Marl hosted a coffee hour on infrastructure at City Hall on Thursday, Sept. 15th. Water dominated much of the Q&A.

“Today, some of the neighborhoods ended up with a whole bunch of brown water,” said once attendee. “Do you have an idea of what might have caused that today and what you’re doing in the future to address that?”

Saline’s Department of Public Works (DPW) Director, Larry Sirls, explained the continued discoloration is caused by the reduced capacity from the city losing one of its main wells. “We lost Well Four months ago,” he explained. “It’s a slow process getting the approvals from EGLE to get the new replacement well back up, and that was a large percentage of our production.”

Sirls explained the reduced capacity has caused postponement or delay of waterline flushing, which removes the mineral buildup that discolors the water. Although he couldn’t yet pinpoint the problem that caused the discoloration that day, he and his staff were using resident calls to track down the cause.

“The impact of losing Well Four was massive on our system,” said Tesha Humphriss, City Engineer. “What happens in the summer is demand goes up significantly.”

Humphriss went on to tell how the city was close to running out of water this past June due to the increased demand, lost capacity to pump water, and drought conditions. “We were truly on a razor thin edge,” she said. “We’re really climbing an uphill battle right now, but we know the plan. We just got to get the well in and get the plan implemented.”

The city encourages residents to report incidents of water discoloration immediately. Image: Saline City website.

City officials explained that the discoloration was due to iron materials flaking off the inside of the water pipes. Despite the brown appearance, the groundwater was deemed safe to drink. They emphasized that the water system had not lost pressure, which would have triggered the need for a boil water advisory.

Humphriss said, "The water's discoloration isn't within the parameters that pose a safety risk. Previous water quality tests did not show any concerning results.” The Mayor added, “We also offer residents two free water quality tests if they have concerns."

One resident expressed their frustration, stating, "I was not overwhelmed by the response I got. The person I spoke to had no idea how long the event would last, and I got absolutely no feedback as to what was going on, where it was happening, and when I could expect to have reasonably clean water. It went on for at least three hours, and I think that's unacceptable. You need to be able to tell your citizens what's going on, how long it's going to last, and when it'll be fixed."

Sirls acknowledged the challenges they faced in handling the high volume of calls from concerned residents. He explained, “That would have been one of two people that answered the phone, and they were doing the best they could with the volume of calls they were taking. I also took calls, and I couldn't call everyone back, and I still have a list of every person that called. If you ask for a call back, I'm behind, but did spend most of today on the phone."

Mayor Brain Marl reassured residents that the city was taking the issue seriously. He stated, "We will ensure that we get contact information for affected residents and work expeditiously to mitigate the issue in specific neighborhoods. We're still working on improving our tools to provide live updates on the system, but we're getting there."

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