Agencies working to resolve water issue in Ontonagon County

Contact: John Pepin, 906-226-1352
Agency: Natural Resources

Nov. 15, 2021

Signs posted at the water source in the Lake Mine area of Ontonagon County.

State, county and township officials are working cooperatively in Ontonagon County's Greenland Township to answer questions about an unlicensed water source some locals have been using for drinking and other household needs for many years.

In the Lake Mine area, northeast of Mass City, the water is being drawn from a hose, after running through an old watermain that travels nearly a mile along the Bill Nichols Rail-Trail. The trail is managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Water samples have been collected from the site and tested. The preliminary test results met safe drinking water standards, but the water is not routinely sampled, nor regulated as a public water source in line with the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act. Additional heavy metals water sample test results are pending.

The exact origin of the water is undetermined. Without the ability to locate and inspect the source, the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy cannot deem the water safe to drink.

Area residents are getting water from the old steam locomotive filling station, which has degraded over time to a flooded pit. The plumbing at the water access site does not meet minimum code requirements to provide safe and sanitary water to the public.

The DNR posted signs alerting the public that the water is not drinkable (non-potable). The Michigan Plumbing Code requires that all non-potable water outlets, such as hose connections, open-ended pipes and faucets, be identified with signs that read: "Caution: Non-potable water - Do not drink."

Recently, the signs have been removed by vandals and discarded.

"We are working to conduct more extensive testing and resolve questions about this water source," said Ron Yesney, DNR Upper Peninsula trails coordinator. "In the meantime, we are urging people to leave the signs up until we come up with a long-term plan for the water well and piping."

DNR conservation officers have been made aware of the sign vandalism and are monitoring the situation. The DNR is exploring options and costs involved in trying to find the water's source. Residents living in houses in the immediate vicinity have been contacted and are being provided bottled water for drinking.

In September 2020, the DNR learned that a watermain was discovered buried in the Bill Nichols Rail-Trail.   

"At the time, it was believed to be a dormant main that surfaced as a result of grading and compacting equipment working on the trail," Yesney said. "Upon further investigation by trails staffers, the main was discovered to be coming from a historic working water source, which was built by the Copper Range Railroad in the early 1900s."

The rail line was purchased by the DNR in 1974 to be developed into a public trail - now the Bill Nichols Rail-Trail.

The watermain supplied an old steam locomotive filling station and the community of Lake Mine, which was first settled in 1840 and had a population of roughly 150 residents by the early 1900s.

For more information, contact John Pepin, DNR deputy public information officer, in Marquette at 906-226-1352 or

Note to editors: An accompanying photo is available below for download. Caption information follows. Credit: Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Signs: Signs posted at the water source in the Lake Mine area of Ontonagon County are shown.