Article courtesy of John Enger | October 28, 2014 | MPR News | Shared as educational material
The Brainerd Public Utilities Board decided Tuesday to stop chlorinating city water. It’s an unusual move for a public water supply and once again makes Brainerd one of the largest cities in the state still pumping un-chlorinated water to its residents.
A storm knocked out the water system’s pressure last month, opening the door to possible contamination. Public Utilities Superintendent Scott Magnuson said the whole system had to be flushed with chlorine.
Chlorine has been added steadily to the water ever since. On Tuesday, the utilities board discussed whether to keep adding chlorine permanently.
“It actually wasn’t much of a debate,” Magnuson said. “I came with a list of pros and cons about chlorine and the commissioners voted unanimously to stop chlorinating.”
Since Brainerd does not chlorinate on a permanent basis, the water system is open to bacterial contamination. In the last 30 years, the system has been compromised three times — in 1987, again in 2007 and during the most recent storm.
An estimated 82 percent of municipal water systems in the state use chlorine to disinfect their supply, according to the Minnesota Department of Health’s Drinking Water Protection division. Most of the remaining 18 percent of water systems serve less than 5,000 people. Brainerd is an exception.
All of Brainerd’s water comes from an aquifer some 170 feet below the city. A steady drip of chlorine might prevent future contamination, but Magnuson said people in Brainerd don’t want to ruin the pure taste of their deep-well drinking water.
Brainerd residents historically have been skeptical about the benefits of adding chemicals to water. In the 1980s Brainerd was the last Minnesota city to add fluoride, a chemical associated with dental health, to its drinking water.
The fluoride debate took 30 years to resolve. Magnuson said people feel just as strongly about chlorine. He and all five utilities commissioners got many calls and emails before Tuesday’s vote. A few wanted chlorine. The vast majority, he said, begged the commissioners to keep chemicals out of their water.
Brainerd water could be free of chlorine as soon as next week, but the board is considering a $55,000 upgrade to the emergency purification system.
The entire water system currently has only one access point where chlorine can be added. When workers were forced to flush chlorine through the system last month, they could only pump from that one point. With equipment so old Magnuson said they had to replace a corroded valve before they could open the taps.
Magnuson said the board is considering installing a second chlorine access point, and replacing the old storage and mixing systems. Two access points and new equipment poised to deliver a flush of chlorine when needed could be just as effective as a steady stream of the stuff. They’ll bring the issue up again at a meeting next month.