Sylvan Township residents warned not to drink water after break-in at treatment plant

Sylvan Township residents are being told not to drink or use the water out of their taps after a man broke into the township's water treatment facility and tampered with its system controls, according to Michigan State Police.

A 33-year-old Belleville man illegally entered the Sylvan Township water treatment plant in Washtenaw County around 7 a.m. on Monday.

"They flipped switches – turned things on and off," said the manager of the township's Department of Public Works (DPW), Robert Scull. "We got to go through that tomorrow to make sure that everything is where it should be."

Michigan State Police Brighton Post troopers responded to the scene after the facility's employees reported the breach upon their arrival, according to MSP First District on X. The suspect came out of the building as a trooper took a report; he was arrested on scene.

"Investigation showed that the suspect had broken into the plant, causing damage to its interior and tampered with the system controls," MSP released. "There was also evidence of attempts to damage local infrastructure."

The intruder also left behind bizarre graffiti, Scull said. In the chemical feed room, the suspect painted crosses "for whatever reason."

"We do have a scale that was damaged – a chemical scale we use to measure the amount of chemical we add to the water," Scull said.

A "Do Not Drink" water advisory was issued by Washtenaw County.

Sylvan Township Officials conducted testing and found no evidence of contamination so far. However, they are waiting for final test results from the state before lifting the "Do Not Drink" advisory.

Residents are asked to avoid drinking or using tap water until its safety can be guaranteed. The state's water test results are expected around noon Tuesday.

"Use bottled water only for drinking, cooking, (and) pets," according to the public safety alert that Sylvan Township residents received. 

Stacks of bottled water are being offered at the Sylvan Township Hall.

Only 300 people ended up being impacted by the water advisory since the township's system is a small one – with most getting their water from a bigger, unaffected network in the area, according to Sylvan Township officials.

The suspect appeared to have entered the property by cutting a barbed wire fence, MSP said. He spray-painted the building's windows, allegedly attempting to prevent being seen inside, and used items in the facility to put together an impromptu bed.

"When the operators came in, they noticed these boxes were stacked, and they’re not normally kept there," Scull said.

According to investigators at this time, it is unclear how long the man stayed in the facility.

The 33-year-old is now in custody at the Washtenaw County Jail; he is facing several charges. 

Updates on the water's safety will be released once available.

DPW officials said the incident is a rare occurrence they hope to never deal with again.

"The plant’s been here (for) almost 25 years, and this is the first time that this has happened," Scull said.