State finds elevated sodium levels in Caledonia wells

Campau/Kettle Lake Wastewater Treatment Facility
The Campau/Kettle Lake Wastewater Treatment Facility in Caledonia. (June 12, 2017)

CALEDONIA TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Residents living near a sewage treatment plant near Caledonia are having their well water tested for high levels of sodium tied to plant. While there’s no apparent health risk, the state is telling local officials to deal with it.

The Campau/Kettle Lake Wastewater Treatment Facility off McCords Avenue north of 66th Street SE does a good job separating out a lot of the bad stuff from residents’ water before the aquifer takes over.

But it doesn’t take out sodium. That sodium has created an underground plume, increasing sodium levels beyond state standards in wells at two homes in a neighborhood north of the plant.

Wells at about a dozen other nearby homes tested below state limits.

While the affected homes appear to be isolated to one neighborhood, the plume may break apart at some point and head further north.

“What’s good for us is that north of those two homes, it’s fairly undeveloped land. There’s not a lot of residential out there at all,” said Dick Robertson, who serves as both the elected treasurer and appointed township administrator for Caledonia Township.

There’s no indication the increased sodium is a widespread health and safety issue. The Environmental Protection Agency has no health-based standards for sodium or chloride under the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

>>PDF: EPA on sodium

“Sodium and chloride both are essential elements in our diet,” Robertson said. “I think the concern sometimes would be people who are on a low-sodium diet … have to be aware of the amount of sodium that they may be consuming. ”

But the state of Michigan says the sodium, once it reaches a certain level, shouldn’t be there.

Caledonia Township officials say one source of the problem is home water softeners. They discharge salt brine into the sewer systems, raising sodium levels coming out of the plant.

If the problem can’t be solved, the state says Caledonia can force residents to block the brine produced by water softeners.

“And then they would have to discharge that brine into a dry well in their yard, which would require a cost to them,” Robertson said.

So for now, the township is launching a public education campaign, hoping for a voluntary solution involving residents cutting back on water softener use.

“Mainly that the water not being over-softened or that the softener may be an older model that’s running on an everyday or every other day basis,” Robertson said.