In addition to strict regulations already in place, Public Works director cites conversion to plastic pipes

    The water contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan has created a national response and even petitions by celebrities to fix Flint’s service lines.         

    Starting in mid 2014, after Flint changed its water source from treated water from Detroit to the Flint River, its drinking water had a series of lead contamination that created serious public health danger. Flint River water caused lead from aging pipes to leak into the city of Flint’s water supply causing highly elevated levels of the metal. Thousands of children that have been exposed to drinking water with high levels of lead and people fear that this may lead to a range of serious health problems.

   A recent outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease, an atypical pneumonia caused by bacteria, may also be linked to the water change which has since killed 10 people and affected over 75 near Flint.

    Crookston residents who attended February’s ‘Night of Expression’ event at the University of Minnesota Crookston were shown first hand what Flint is going through by newly-hired Sodexo dining manager and Michigan resident Jarvis Richardson. Richardson presented a slideshow and discussed what his hometown is dealing with, including how it is affecting his own family. He mentioned how difficult it was to have to explain to his daughter why she had to bathe with bottled water.

    Fast forward to a recent March meeting with the Polk County Board of Commissioners where Public Health director Sarah Reese said that area residents are “understandably concerned” about the need to prevent lead in local drinking water supplies. Reese added that 17 cities in Minnesota rely on river water for their drinking water supplies and nearly all have some lead piping in their housing stock.

    “Minnesota is very proactive in water quality and in Polk County, my primary concern is rather with homes that have lead-based paint,” Reese explained.

    District 1 Commissioner Craig Buness said he couldn’t understand how the water contamination in Flint could get to that level.

    “Obviously the color is alarming,” continued Reese. “People also talk about the taste and what it does to their bodies. The point of the matter is that it’s a very unfortunate situation.”

    She did reassure the board that the Minnesota Department of Health does do regular water system treatment reviews and analysis for all different water systems, and each jurisdiction has to maintain a high quality level of water. Reese added that some people might not be so happy when they see a water service connection fee, but that some of that money goes into testing water quality and lead levels or other chemicals that could be in the water.

    Other areas of discussion around the board room table were how fast the color of the water changed, the Great Minnesota Tap Water Taste Test (where East Grand Forks ranked high on taste, said District 2 Commissioner Warren Strandell), and the downturn of the economy causing cities to be no longer viable financially. Polk County Administrator Chuck Whiting said it was unfortunate that Flint switched their water supply to save money and then tragedy happened.


    Crookston Public Works director Pat Kelly weighed in on the Flint crisis saying they should look at replacing the trouble areas as quickly as possible although it may be difficult financially and he reiterated that Minnesota does set quite the high standard when it comes to protecting their water supply. Kelly says that Crookston itself has a good system in place and they convert close to 4-5 blocks of pipe to plastic per year for main lines.

    “Minnesota has a lead and copper rule, and cities have routine sample counts,” Kelly explained. “This year we will be testing the levels of lead and copper in the system again, not because anything has changed. Just because it is that time.”

    “Since the 1980s, we have been going all plastic,” he added. “We feel plastic has better flow capabilities, is highly durable and doesn’t corrode.”

    When asked how the plastic pipes hold up during the winter months, Kelly said they are placed eight feet deep below the frost line and usually the only issues that may arise is if a resident hasn’t been home for a while and it gets really cold. Kelly said usually the heat of the water that goes through the pipes takes care of any concerns and that the pipes themselves expand down the line not outward.

    The Crookston Water Division is responsible for water distribution for the city, Highland Estates and American Crystal Sugar as well as a few other small outside customers. The water supply is pumped from six wells east of Crookston to the water plant on Fairfax Avenue where it is chemically treated.

    Kelly says Crookston chlorinates their water and adds fluoride. Nothing else.

    “We have very good water coming out of the wells underground,” said Kelly. “The water comes in, goes through filters and we add the chemicals.”

    “There are three 500,000 gallon storage tanks within our water system,” he added. “One is at the well site, another at the north end of Crookston on Fisher Avenue and the last at the south end by industrial park.”