Protecting Willmar's water from potential contamination

WILLMAR -- Contamination of the water supply is a concern whenever there is an unprotected cross connection, whether actual or possible, between the potable water supply and any source which could introduce contaminants into the water system. To ...

WILLMAR - Contamination of the water supply is a concern whenever there is an unprotected cross connection, whether actual or possible, between the potable water supply and any source which could introduce contaminants into the water system. To decrease these events, the Minnesota Department of Health, the newly updated Minnesota Plumbing Code and the federal government is mandating all purveyors of water implement a backflow/cross connection program, which will include the annual inspection of all backflow preventers within its coverage area.
In Willmar the responsible party will be Willmar Municipal Utilities, which provides the city’s drinking water and is required by the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure water quality. This responsibility includes making sure the water is not compromised as it goes through the pipes to the faucets.
Randall Kardell, Willmar building official, introduced the program during the April 28 meeting of the Community Development Committee and spoke on it again at Monday’s city council meeting. The council will need to direct Willmar Municipal Utilities to implement the program.
“It is a testing and maintenance program,” Kardell said at Monday’s meeting.
Contamination can happen when backflow or backsiphonage occurs, or when the pressure of the polluted source is higher than the pressure of the potable water source. The contaminants can then flow backward into the water supply.
Kardell said there have been instances of contamination in the city before.
“We have had cross connection backflow situations in the city we have responded to. We had elderly people drinking sanitizing agents in the water,” after a healthcare facility had commerical cleaning solvents siphon back into the water supply, Kardell said.
Contamination can happen in both commercial or residential areas. Willmar has many businesses which deal with chemicals and pesticides or have commercial boilers or fire sprinkler systems, all which could be sources of water contamination. Kardell said all it could take is one case of backflow for a catastrophe to happen.
“You’re talking about an entire city here where one business could contaminate,” Kardell said.
The main concern for residential is in-ground lawn sprinklers. Backflow preventers should be installed when the sprinkler system is put in.
“Residential is just a small portion of this,” Kardell said.
The program would create a database of all the locations where such contamination could take place and who has a backflow prevention device installed. Each year those devices will need to be inspected by a licensed plumber or backflow technician, Kardell said. It will be the property owner’s responsibility to get the devices inspected each year.
There is still work to be done before the program will be implemented, if and when the council gives its final approval. The city has been in discussions with Willmar Municipal Utilities about what will need to be done.
“Basically the city is gathering information. We’ll satisfy the rules as required. There are a lot of details that need to be worked out,” Willmar Municipal Utilities General Manager Wes Hompe said.
The council voted to table the measure until after they heard from City Attorney Robert Scott about what repercussions the city could face for not implementing the program. Scott did say it was not uncommon for cities to be given mandates and face consequences if they don’t follow through.
The vote was initially 3-3, with Council members Audrey Nelsen, Rick Fagerlie and Tim Johnson voting against tabling. Council members Denis Anderson and Steve Ahmann were absent. Mayor Marv Calvin broke the tie, voting to table.
There was council concern about the city being forced into starting this program and how much it would cost.
“It bothers me,” Council member Andrew Plowman said.
Customer compliance was also discussed, with Christianson pointing out many people don’t remember to change their furnace filter or the oil in their car.
“The compliance with this is going to be disastrous,” Christianson said.
The whole goal of the program is to keep Willmar’s water free from contamination.
“A furnace filter is not going to kill you, your air purifier is not going to kill you, water with 24d, that is going to kill you and you use it on your lawn every time you fertilize and weed and feed. You want to drink that?” Kardell asked.
“Not by choice,” Christianson said.
“That is what this program will prevent,” Kardell said.


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Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email or direct 320-214-4373.

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