Fluoride Action Network

Non-fluoridated water tap to remain shut off for time being

Brainerd Dispatch | Nov 2, 2023 | By Theresa Bourke
Posted on November 2nd, 2023

BRAINERD — Brainerd’s non-fluoridated water tap will remain shut off until city officials can determine any potential liability issues.

The tap at the wastewater treatment plant offered residents from Brainerd and surrounding communities non-fluoridated water for decades, after the city lost its battle against water fluoridation in 1980. The tap was shut off in August, though, after the city’s water was contaminated with total coliform bacteria, and it has not yet been turned back on.

Crews at Brainerd Public Utilities continue to chlorinate the water supply in accordance with state guidelines. Adding chlorine to that tap, BPU Superintendent Todd Wicklund said, would be a major undertaking, as the water flows directly from the well fields.

Brainerd City Council members agreed in October to send a letter to the BPU Commission asking for the tap to be turned back on. Commissioners took up that request during their meeting Tuesday, Oct. 31, after hearing from resident Sue Sterling, who added to the council’s plea.

Sterling said she does not drink fluoridated water and has instead been filling up with about 15-20 gallons of untreated water each month at the tap. In recent months, she said she had to turn to the grocery store for her water, which is a hardship in terms of expense on a fixed income.

“I know you have to follow government regulations,” she told the commission. “However, I believe that the voices of the citizens of Brainerd in 1980, who fought to keep our water unfluoridated, should not go unheeded. There are many who don’t feel safe drinking fluoridated water, and I know I’m not the only one who would appreciate the good water being made available once again.”

Sterling is not the only one with concerns about the tap’s future, as Wicklund said he knows of people who come from 30 miles to fill up with non-fluoridated water.

Wastewater Treatment Plant Supervisor Charlie Gammon said Tuesday he has a list of residents to call if and when the tap is turned back on.

The water at the tap is already tested once a week, Wicklund told the commission, and if it were to be turned back on, he would like to do one additional test a week to ensure its safety. He estimates the cost of testing to be about $20 per week.

Commissioner Tad Johnson moved for the tap to be turned back on, and Mark O’Day seconded the motion for discussion purposes.

“Safe drinking water is really important for everyone,” Johnson said. “Our customers — mostly we care about them — but a lot of people come from outside of the city of Brainerd who don’t have safe drinking water. And I think it’s a huge service — public benefit service — for us to be able to allow the area folks to come and use the tap to ensure they have high quality water.”

After Johnson said he was strongly in favor of turning the tap back on, O’Day said he was worried about liability if someone were to get sick, even if the water were tested twice a week.

Gammon said that was a concern of his as well, and he would feel better if there were some sort of protection in place for the city, whether it be a signed user agreement or some sort of disclaimer about the water being non-potable.

While Gammon said he understands the historic value of the water tap and how important it is to some people, he said he believes ensuring the safety of that water is nearly impossible.

“It’s really a decision of the commission and council, but I would like to be able to get a document of some sort, or we discuss a permitting process … or labeling it non-potable, unfinished drinking water, use at your own risk,” Gammon said.

Commissioner Dolly Matten said her concern was how to notify the public if that tap were to become contaminated. She also said she’d prefer to have legal advice on whether the city can provide the tap without liability.

Johnson agreed to amend his motion, subject to legal advice and perhaps putting a sign on the tap, but O’Day said that would not be good enough for him to vote yes.

“I still think there’s a lot of liability on our part that I’m not willing to take,” O’Day said.

The motion failed 1-4, with Matten, Mike Angland and Patrick Wussow joining O’Day in opposition.

The commission will take up the issue again at its Nov. 28 meeting after instructing staff to find out more information about a possible permitting process, signage and whether the Minnesota Department of Health would allow the continued use of the tap without chlorination.

Continued chlorination

The city’s water will continue to be chlorinated, at least through the winter, per health department requirements and in conjunction with a plan to help prevent further copper corrosion in the city’s water treatment equipment.

A 2022 study from the state showed higher than acceptable levels of copper corrosion, requiring the city to develop a treatment plan by Nov. 6. Wicklund presented that plan Tuesday, and it includes feeding and maintaining an orthophosphate in the distribution system. Staff will then monitor and adjust the chemical feeds as needed. Further testing of copper levels will be conducted upon implementation of the chemical feed systems to meet limits imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency’s lead and copper rule.

*Original full-text article online at: https://www.brainerddispatch.com/news/local/non-fluoridated-water-tap-to-remain-shut-off-for-time-being