City leaders are considering what can be done next about a high natural level of manganese in Pierre’s drinking water, especially for those who perhaps can’t afford to buy clean water they can consume.
Pierre officials put out a health advisory Wednesday recommending residents shouldn’t drink city water if it hasn’t received additonal treatment such as from a water softener or reverse-osmosis system.
The recommendation also suggested city water shouldn’t be consumed as an ingredient in soups or other food, and shouldn’t be made into ice for drinks, because it has so much natural manganese.
Brooke Bohnenkamp is communication manager for Pierre city government. “The city is evaluating options for accommodating low-income citizens and will make an announcement when a plan is finalized,” she said Thursday.
Asked about the city’s public drinking fountains, Bohnenkamp said, “We’re in the inventory process and will make accommodations based on location of the water fountains.”
Pierre gets its raw water from wells but doesn’t treat it for manganese. The natural chemical leaves dark red stains on brick and concrete and has been a local issue for decades.
There isn’t a state or federal standard for manganese in water, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is moving in that direction.
Recent test data submitted to EPA showed Pierre had 2.5 milligrams of manganese per liter of water, according to Mark Mayer. He is drinking water program administrator in the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
The EPA health recommendation is no more than one milligram of manganese per liter of water for children and adults, and no more than three-tenths of one milligram per liter for infants six months and younger.
The city’s current plan calls for constructing a new water treatment plant and having it running in late 2021. It would take raw water from the Missouri River.
In the meantime, city officials are relying on water softeners and reverse-osmosis systems that many people have in their homes.
The city’s position is water softeners and reverse osmosis should bring manganese within EPA recommendations.
Mayer’s office sent a letter Tuesday recommending Pierre officials issue the health advisory.
Governor Kristi Noem, who moved to Pierre three months ago after winning the November election, said Thursday the city’s action alerting citizens to the manganese findings pleased her.
“I became aware of them last week and encouraged the city to be transparent. I’m very grateful that they let the public know what’s going on with the drinking water supply in Pierre,” Noem said.
The governor said individual families will be making decisions in the months ahead.
As for people who can’t afford water softeners and reverse-osmosis systems, Noem said, “That is going to be the struggle for families. This will be an added cost if they’re going to go out and purchase clean drinking water. That will be a challenge.”
The governor said people should present the cost concerns to city officials and to state officials.
“I wouldn’t say I have the answer today but we’re working on it,” Noem said.