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Turning Lake Erie water into drinking water

Melissa Topey • Nov 4, 2013 at 7:00 PM

A water treatment plant is all about good chemistry.

On Tuesday, I conducted tests on Lake Erie’s raw water — yes, untreated — with Matt Berry standing at my side in a small lab at the Marblehead water treatment plant. Berry is the facility’s superintendent.

“Last time I was in a lab was high school,” I said.

We tested PH, alkalinity, hardness and turbidity of the water.

The last 50 milligrams of raw water were used to test the turbidity, the cloudiness. It came in at 6.7 mils. The water is a bit more stirred up than just the day before, when it was 2 mils. Berry said they had removed a piece of equipment, which stirred up the water.

For now, Lake Erie is pretty healthy.

“It looks pretty good to me,” Berry said.

Village residents drink water that’s pulled in from about 450 feet out in Lake Erie. “We live next to the greatest reservoir there is,” Berry said. “We are lucky.”

The water plant is the only utility the village owns. Elsewhere in the facility Wendy Jaskulski and Olga Trumpower were preparing to mail out 669 bills. “We have been averaging that. This is a seasonal area, so it varies as to how many bills go out,” Jaskulski said. “The summer has the higher revenue.”

As of this past week, Marblehead residents were using about 100,000 gallons of water a day. In the dead of winter, as more people leave for the season, water use drops to about 60,000 gallons.

In the summer months, water use skyrockets to about 400,000 gallons.

People washing their boats are the biggest users of water in the summer.

Raw water goes into filter tanks, then into a rapid mix where powdered activated carbon takes out any unpleasant taste or odor and reduces any organics in the water, such as fish poo and decayed plant life. By the time the process is done, the water is treated, cleaned and ready to drink.

Solids settle out in a clarifier tank, which forms a thick black blanket of sludge at the bottom. More than a ton of sludge is removed once a month by Agri-Sludge.

Conveniently enough, Agri-Sludge showed up while I was there.

I got to help Fred Clabough suck up the sediment.

The sludge gets thicker as the water is removed, and what’s found at the bottom is too thick to be drawn up by hose into the Agri-Sludge truck. It has to be watered down. There’s no better way to do that than with a fire hose.

I grabbed a fire hose attached to a Marblehead fire station pumper that was brought in special for the job. Once Berry and his crew got it working, I pulled back the lever and let the strong stream of water fly.

I hosed down the well and the sludge as Clabough sucked it up into the truck.

Inadvertently, I sprayed Berry once with the hose water. “Sorry about that,” I said as I continued about my work.

Said Berry: “Don’t work in a water treatment plant if you can’t handle water.”

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