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Suburb's woes affect waterworks


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December 13, 2012
GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Highland Park’s financial problems could put the Grosse Pointe Farms water plant on ice.

The plant filters drinking water to residents of the Farms and City of Grosse Pointe.

It also draws raw water from Lake St. Clair through an intake pipe shared with Highland Park, which had to shut down its filtration system and seems unable to afford repairs.

The shutdown prevents using backflow from Highland Park to flush ice known to clog the 1,500-foot water intake from Lake St. Clair.

To prelude service interruptions this winter, Farms officials arranged to tap into Detroit’s distribution network at short notice.

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The intake, located 1,500 feet offshore in 10 to 12 feet of water, can choke with frazil ice, a slushy mixture that forms in turbulent water.

The usual remedy is for Highland Park, which pumps water upgrade to its filtration plant 11.5 miles inland, to stop its pumps and let the flow swoosh back out the intake.

“Water flows backwards and pushes the ice out,” said Tom Biehl, vice president of Hubbell, Roth & Clark, the Farms engineering consultants.

The process takes about an hour.

“Then, they turn the pumps back on,” Biehl said.

No longer, at least for now.

Cash-strapped Highland Park was ordered to shut down its filtration plant and make significant repairs. Biehl estimated repairs to cost $20- to $30 million.

“Where that money will come from, nobody knows,” he said.

“It doesn’t look likely that Highland Parks’ water plant will be operational any time soon,” said Scott Homminga, Farms water superintendent.

The Farms draws water from the lake by gravity to a raw water tank buried near the filtration plant at 29 Moross.

Lake water drains into the intake pipe, which is 30 inches in diameter and has a maximum flow rate of 30 million gallons per day.

“There’s really no way for us to backflow water into that intake and push ice out without using Highland Parks’ water lines going up (Moross) to Highland Park,” Homminga said.

The Farms needs alternatives.

“We’re doing preliminary studies at this point,” said Shane Reeside, city manager.

“There’s a number of things we can do with regard to reversing pumps,” Biehl said.

A costlier option is burying the intake in the lakebed.

“It would draw water through the lakebed,” Biehl said. “You don’t have frazzle ice because it can’t get through the lakebed.”

The bed also serves as a filter.

“It helps with turbidity in the plant,” Reeside said.

The deal with Detroit is intended to be temporary through winter.

“We’ll have to determine in spring what’s going to happen permanently with (Highland Park) and where Grosse Pointe Farms goes with that intake,” Biehl said.

This may be the first year since 1929 that Highland Park won’t pump water to its reservoir, according to Homminga.

The Farms might utilize pumps at the Highland Park pump station, a small brick building off Lakeshore, west of Moross. The Farms has maintained the station’s pumps for two years, since a Highland Park employee retired.

“Highland Park no longer took care of the facilities,” Homminga said. “We ended up having to go in there and do as much maintenance as we can to keep things running.”

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