Decades-old wells in Grand Haven exposed by rising water

Ottawa County

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — Rising water in Lake Michigan has caused plenty of problems for people living near the beach and for cities along the lakeshore as well. 

The water in Grand Haven, so high now it’s uncovered wells, pump houses and other concrete structures built nearly a century ago that once provided water for the city. 

Joe Vanderstel, the water facilities manager says who more historical artifacts could soon be visible if the water keeps rising. 

“This is an unusual sight, because it wasn’t that long ago when we had very low water. We’re seeing a lot of erosion, and exposure of some old wells that were put in in the 1930’s,” Vanderstel said. “I mean everything always pops up when you have a lot of erosion.”

“Our history shows that there’s even other things below the grade on the beach,” Vanderstel said. “The two well bases that are currently exposed are two of eight originally built.”

Those eight well points, supplied nearly one million gallons of water to the city daily. 

“If you can believe it, it only cost about $20,000 to put all those in,” Vanderstel said. “Today to build something similar, would cost millions of dollars.”

Today’s equipment is far more advanced, run by computers and outputting millions more gallons per day.

 “It’s amazing really, they’re not really that much outdated,” Vanderstel said. “I mean they still use the same technology, obviously a little higher tech, with all the pumping. That technology still is being used today. It’s a great technique. We just don’t use those wells now. We use a buried infiltration bed.”

Those infiltration beds are buried 700 feet further off shore, 15 feet deeper below the sand too. 

Wells that Vanderstel believes one day in the distant future might become exposed themselves.

“I mean everything always pops up when you have a lot of erosion. We think about infrastructure, but we don’t know about it because we can’t observe it because most of the stuff that we work with is buried,” Vanderstel said. “Out of sight out of mind.”

The resurfacing of the two wells gives the city an opportunity to look back, appreciate the history. And look ahead at new advancements to come.

 “Our infrastructure needs repair and replacement,” Vanderstel says. “It does bring it to the forefront to realize things that we don’t see that are buried, lot of our infrastructure for sewers and water all buried. Some of them are close to a hundred years old and we need to replace a lot of those.”

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