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Water system critical to Frankenmuth infrastructure

By Mary Anne Ackerman

Mayor of Frankenmuth

  Before I was actively involved in city government, I didn't give much thought to our water supply. I walked to the sink, turned on the faucet, and good tasting, safe water came out. I have since learned that the journey and story of the water that flows freely from our taps is a long one. It includes a journey of more than 75 miles and long-standing cooperative agreements among different governmental units. 

  Recognizing the need for a reliable water source, in 1946, the City of Saginaw partnered with the City of Midland to create the Saginaw-Midland Municipal Water Supply Corporation. They invested $10.3 million to construct a system to transport water from Lake Huron, north of AuGres, to Saginaw and Midland. The cost to duplicate the same project today is estimated to be $430 million. Wow!

  Because of the foresight of the leaders of both cities, Saginaw and Midland benefit from having one of the best raw water sources in the world. This excellent source of water is pumped to both Cities, where it is treated to produce potable water. Potable water is water that does not contain objectionable pollution, contamination, minerals, or infective agents and is considered safe for human consumption.

  The City of Saginaw treats the water at its large treatment plant off Ezra Rust Avenue near the Saginaw YMCA. From there, the water is then sent to many outlying Saginaw County communities, including Frankenmuth. We purchase water as a wholesale customer from the City of Saginaw. This arrangement began in 1968 when Frankenmuth found that its own water system that depended on the Cass River was no longer adequate for our City. Our first city manager, Herb Keinath, negotiated the arrangement with Saginaw in 1967.

  Frankenmuth sells water to portions of Frankenmuth Township that have public water lines. The City also has a maintenance agreement with the Township to operate and maintain their water system.

  It takes one to two weeks for the water to travel from the Lake Huron intake to your faucet. Like Lake Huron's pipeline, Frankenmuth has invested in its own infrastructure to transport the water to your homes and businesses. Within the City of Frankenmuth, there are 43.5 miles of water main ranging in size from 4 inch to 20 inch. Our City's first water main was installed in the late 1930s, of which 1.18 miles remain in service today.  The City’s water distribution system also includes:

• Water pump station

• Two elevated storage tanks – a 400,000-gallon tank north of the Cass River and 300,000-gallon tank south of the Cass River.   

• 1,124 main water valves.

• 440 fire hydrants.

  Customers of the City of Frankenmuth water system use approximately 738,000 gallons of water per day.

  Winter often brings breaks in our water lines. Breaks depend on several factors, including the weather, the pipe's age, composition, and even the soil in which the pipe is buried. Sometimes, though, there is not a lot of rhyme or reason to the break. Breaks are more likely to occur on older pipes, in corrosive soils, and in weather situations with big swings in temperature or periods of extreme cold.

  Water Department Superintendent Kenneth O'Brien has charted every water main break since 1930. The charting system includes the age of the main, the material, the size of the main, whether it is commercial or residential, and the number of breaks. Some water lines installed in the 1930s and 40s have a better performance record and are more reliable than those installed in the 1950s. All of this data helps the Department of Public Works with its ongoing maintenance and to help plan for the replacement of old and outdated water lines.

  Before adopting a budget each year in July, the City develops a Capital Improvement Plan, which prioritizes and plans for major projects. In 2021 Flint Street was reconstructed, including a new water line which replaced lines from the 1930s and 1940s. Next up is West Tuscola Street from South Main to Cass Street.  A new 8-inch water line will be included in this project.

  Our water system is a large and critical part of our infrastructure that works as it should. As a citizen of Frankenmuth and your mayor, I am very grateful for our community leaders' prior planning and ongoing leadership that helps to bring safe drinking water to our homes each and every day.

  Next time, I’ll talk about how we know our water is safe to drink and how the cost of our water is established.

(c) 2006 Frankenmuth News