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Water worries? It’s all OK in Cloquet

With the serious issue of widespread lead poisoning from the drinking water in the city of Flint, Mich., making headlines across the world, other communities are wondering how their water holds up.

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With the serious issue of widespread lead poisoning from the drinking water in the city of Flint, Mich., making headlines across the world, other communities are wondering how their water holds up.

The bottom line is Cloquet’s water is safe to drink, said Tim Johnson, supervisor of the water and sewer crew in Cloquet, explaining that the city gets its water supply from five wells around town. The wells range from 68  to 120 feet deep and draw water from the Quaternary Water Table and Quaternary Buried Artesian aquifers.

The ground acts as a natural filter for the water, according to Johnson.

The Cloquet water is tested for lead and copper every three years, as is required by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). It was last tested in 2013 and a new report with the latest test results will be sent to residents in July of this year.

In a nutshell, the problems in Flint came from corrosive river water that caused lead to leach from pipe walls, because the city failed to use corrosion controls after switching its water source.

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Cloquet doesn’t have that kind of corrosive water and assistant city engineer Caleb Peterson said the city hasn’t identified any lead pipes in town, adding there are more concerns with contaminated surface water supply than with ground water.

Peterson explained that most of the pipes found in Cloquet are either galvanized iron or copper. Some of the older pipes may have lead joints or fittings, but in such small quantities that there has never been an issue in any of the tests done over the years.

If present, elevated levels of lead can cause serious health problems, especially for pregnant women and young children, including miscarriages, low birth weights for infants, reduced IQs, learning disabilities and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, among others.

Lead in drinking water is primarily from materials and components associated with service lines and home plumbing. The city of Cloquet is responsible for providing high quality drinking water, but cannot control the variety of materials used in plumbing components, Peterson said.

When your water has been sitting for several hours, you can minimize the potential for lead exposure by flushing your tap for 30 seconds to two minutes before using water for drinking or cooking, according to the 2014 Drinking Water Report for Cloquet.

Water testing depends on the source of the water, so can differ from town to town.

“[I also] look at bacterial contamination, where you have to have a boil order,” Johnson said. “We’ve never had one in 33 years. It's required by the Department of Health that we test 10 times a month, which we do at an accredited lab in Duluth.”

The results of the 2014 monitoring stated that no contaminants were detected at levels that violated federal drinking water standards. However, some contaminants were detected in trace amounts that were below legal limits.

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“I think we’ve got great water,” Johnson said.

The Cloquet water supply is also tested for fluoride every day, even on weekends, as required by the state.

The Cloquet water control system had upgrades done several years ago. Johnson said he learned then that “there is an app for that,” of course. Now, with the app downloaded onto his phone, Johnson can check the water levels from anywhere, anytime.

“This is really nice, because sometimes things happen, like at the Park Point station,” Johnson said, referring to a pump station in Duluth that sends Lake Superior water to Sappi. “If one of the pumps failed in the past we had to go down there to reset it. Now we can do it from the phone.”

The water control system at the pump house on Spring Lake Road gives an hour-by-hour account of how many gallons per minute are used in town.

The city of Cloquet uses approximately one million gallons of water a day in the winter and 1.2 million gallons per day during the summer.

The crew have been doing the job so long that they know what the normal numbers are for a given time of day or night. They can tell if there is a leak somewhere because the numbers are higher than normal for that hour.

“I take pride in the efficiency of our department,” Johnson said.

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If anyone is interested in more information on testing for lead in drinking water, check out the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at www.epa.gov/safewater/lead .

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