The city of Whitefish wants to find out what people know about septic contamination in Whitefish Lake, and what they’re willing to do about it. The Whitefish Lake Institute confirmed e.coli with human DNA in the lake, and shared its results with the city last spring. In response, Science and Education Director of the Institute Lori Curtis said the city formed a Wastewater Committee to deal with water quality at Whitefish Lake. The Committee created a survey asking you to rate the importance of water cleanliness; it asks if you knew that the community gets some of its drinking water from Whitefish Lake; if you have a septic system, how old it is, and the likelihood of your attending informational sessions and tours dealing with wastewater management.
“What we’ve discovered right now is everyone on the committee, and all of the public folks who sit in on committee meetings, and people that we reach out to tend to agree that water quality in the lake is important. They swim in the lake, some of our water for the city comes from the lake. So people agree it’s important to keep an eye on this,” Curtis said, “what we need to understand is what are people willing to do for that, to maintain that water quality, and to clean up the issues on the lake.”
Curtis said cost plays a big role in different solutions. One possible solution to curbing the septic leachate is hooking up neighborhoods to the city sewer system. That has costs associated with it, as does replacing aging septic systems. Curtis said the committee is looking into funding options to help offset the costs associated with updating wastewater treatment plans.
Curtis said septic leachate has been found in Whitefish Lake since the mid 1980’s. She describes it as a slow boiling problem that’s reached a dangerous point with the discovery of human DNA. Curtis said that creates potential health risks from viruses and bacteria as well as ecological threats to the water quality which also translates to economic threats for the lake and surrounding community.
“It’s not an emergency, but we absolutely need to start working on it now so it doesn’t become a more difficult situation and more expensive situation in the future,” Curtis said.
Curtis said finding solutions will likely take a few years. The Committee is asking to get back survey responses by April 22nd. It will then incorporate the information into a draft plan by the summer.