THREE RIVERS, Mich. (WOOD) — The city of Three Rivers and the local health department started handing out water filters Tuesday, five days after announcing lead levels in the municipal water system had exceeded the state “action level.”

One municipal customer is Johnetta Bronson, who has lived in the city since 2016.

“I had a white dish drain, so I kept trying to figure out, ‘Why is it always brown every time my dishes drain?'” she said. “One day, we actually ran the water and it came out brown.”

Bronson, 57, said she then had to take matters into her own hands.

“My cousin … told me, ‘Buy bottled water. Do not drink this water.’ So that’s what I do. I buy multiple packs of water,” she explained. “That’s sad that we got to do that, but you got to do what you do to do until somebody makes a change.”

About 860 filters were given to the Three Rivers Department of Public Services on Lincoln Avenue and the Branch-Hillsdale-St. Joseph County Health Agency for distribution.

Water filters are handed out in Three Rivers. (Aug. 8, 2023)
Water filters are handed out in Three Rivers. (Aug. 8, 2023)

Those who have a child under 18 or pregnant person living in or frequently visiting their home, or households where someone is enrolled in Medicaid or the WIC program can get a free filter. Filters are limited to one per household or apartment unit.

“There’s no income that has to be shown. They just have to indicate that they don’t have the means to be able to purchase a filter when it’s available to them,” county Health Officer Rebecca Burns explained.

The health agency said the filters — faucet attachments and filtering pitchers — are tested and certified for lead filtration by the National Science Foundation.

“They meet a certain criteria that removes lead as it passes through that filter. So not any filter is good. It’s a specific filter,” Burns said. “These particular filters meet that standard and they do what’s necessary to reduce lead and make it OK to consume.”

“These filters are intended to provide up to 99% lead removal,” city public services director Amy Roth added. “Boiling does not remove lead, so our goal is to remove any lead that could be present in their service line.”

Water filters are handed out in Three Rivers. (Aug. 8, 2023)
Water filters are handed out in Three Rivers. (Aug. 8, 2023)

The city said last week that it doesn’t believe there has been an increase in the amount of lead in the water. Rather, it said, more stringent testing under state rules revised in 2018 returned higher levels.

The city is planning to replace the lead service lines. It will find out next month whether it is being granted $2.7 million in state funding for the project. Regardless of that application, Roth said the city’s revolving capital project plan includes street reconstruction projects with water main and service replacement that aim to meet the state’s 2040 deadline.

For now, aside from the filters, Roth said city staff are making home visits for water customers needing peace of mind.

“We are looking at what the service line material is coming into their home. That will tell them part of the story,” she said. “The other part of the story that will take us a little longer to figure out is what the rest of their service line looks like — the part that goes from the main to the curbstop, the valve near the curb or sidewalk.”

Filters will be handed out weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the community health agency’s office on Hill Street and from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the city’s public services department on Lincoln Avenue.

“We will continue distribution as long as somebody needs a filter and give everybody the best opportunity to come and get one,” Roth said.