New rules force state to step up water cleanup
Mike Magner Grand Rapids Press BureauThe Grand Rapids PressGrand Rapids, Mich.: Jul 2, 2000.  pg. A.23
Full Text (1780   words)

Copyright Booth Newspapers, Inc. Jul 2, 2000

WASHINGTON -- Long regarded as a leader in attacking water pollution, Michigan is facing its stiffest challenge yet in a three- decade battle to restore its No. 1 natural resource.

New federal rules are looming that will force the state to kick- start lagging cleanup work on more than 325 lakes and rivers still not meeting the goals of the 1972 Clean Water Act.

More aggressive efforts will be required within 12 years on urban rivers and inland lakes that continue to be plagued by stubborn industrial compounds, toxic air pollutants and contaminated runoff from farms and cities.

The regulations to be issued soon by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency come at a ticklish time, when many of the 1,100 municipal wastewater treatment systems in Michigan are decades old and need extensive repairs.

"Even more scary is the sewer infrastructure that is more than 100 years old," said Thomas Kamppinen, chief of municipal facilities at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. "The collecting sewers are a huge problem."

The Flint area, for example, has had a rash of breaks this spring in its overburdened and aging network of sanitary sewers.

"We still have some communities (around the state) that have raw sewage going out into the river in the 21st century," Kamppinen said.

Progress made

Most agree that Michigan has made tremendous progress in recent decades cleaning up a century's worth of industrial and human waste that was dumped untreated into the nearest lake or stream.

The work began in earnest in 1972 with passage of the federal Clean Water Act, which set a goal of making all the nation's waters "fishable and swimmable" for future generations.

For about a decade after the law was passed, Congress provided billions of dollars for water restoration projects and wastewater treatment systems, including more than $4 billion for Michigan municipalities.

The grants slowed to a trickle in the '80s and '90s, shifting more of the costs to states. Meanwhile, Michigan kept ratcheting down discharge limits on so-called point sources of pollution, mostly cities and industries with pipes depositing wastewater into waterways.

"There's no question that water quality in Michigan is improving," said Dave Hamilton, director of the DEQ's surface water quality division, which enforces the Clean Water Act in the state under EPA's oversight.

"Fish contamination is dropping from historical highs," Hamilton said. "I think what it is is we've shut off sources. We don't have PCBs and metals coming out of the pipes."

Environmentalists agree, but say progress in controlling point discharges has slowed in recent years. They also say the state has barely begun attacking "nonpoint sources," mainly runoff and air pollution that carry oil, fertilizer, pesticides, mercury and other contaminants to state waters.

"We made huge progress from the '70s to the early '90s, but I don't think any progress has been made since then," said Dave Dempsey, policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council, a coalition of state groups.

"At a glacial pace"

The revival of Michigan's fishery, especially in the Great Lakes, is mainly the result of federal bans on pesticides like DDT and chlordane and industrial compounds like PCBs, Dempsey said.

"It's difficult to say we're deteriorating, but we're just not making progress in getting after nonpoint pollution," said Tim Eder, director of the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes office in Ann Arbor.

"There are some things happening," he said, "but it's a glacial pace."

Eder's organization gave Michigan a "D" this spring in a report card on Clean Water Act progress, largely for failing to protect its surface waters from contaminated runoff and air pollution.

More efforts to reduce nonpoint pollution would be required by the new EPA rules expected to be issued this summer.

The EPA's goal is to revive a long-dormant section of the Clean Water Act that requires states to identify all waters not meeting the law's goals and develop cleanup plans for each pollution problem. The proposed rules would set a 12-year deadline for plans and require that "reasonable efforts" be made to control nonpoint pollution.

Michigan completed its latest inventory of impaired waters this spring and listed 328 lakes and streams needing cleanup plans, mostly in the southern Lower Peninsula.

The list includes nearly all the mighty rivers winding through the state's major cities, including the Grand, the Huron, the Kalamazoo, the Saginaw and the Tittabawassee. Most have problems with persistent toxins from a legacy of industrial discharges, such as PCBs from paper mills and manufacturing plants.

Problem areas

All inland lakes in Michigan have problems from airborne mercury, especially from coal-burning power plants. The state only listed lakes with the highest mercury levels as needing cleanup plans, but Hamilton said the EPA plans to develop a nationwide strategy by 2011 for reducing mercury in all waters.

Also on the state list are many streams and lakes that have been loaded with excessive nutrients, often fertilizers containing nitrates or phosphorus. These nutrients promote algae and plants that deplete the water of oxygen needed to support fish and other aquatic animals.

"The general trend for nitrates in rivers is up," said David Allan, a University of Michigan biology professor.

"That's not coming from wastewater; it's coming primarily from agriculture."

The Michigan Department of Agriculture helped finance more than 70 projects aimed at reducing runoff in the past decade, but all relied on voluntary participation by farmers, said Vicki Pontz-Teachout, director of the department's environmental stewardship division.

Now the state is preparing to launch a $125 million program (including $100 million in federal funds) that will actually pay farmers to reduce runoff in three areas: Lake Macatawa near Holland, the River Raisin in Lenawee and Monroe counties, and the Saginaw Bay.

Farmers within those watersheds who plant buffer strips of vegetation to catch contaminants will be paid rent for the land as well as bonuses for participating in the program, Pontz-Teachout said.

"This is a very concentrated effort, the first time this much money all at one time has been made available," she said.

"Our hope is we will be able to demonstrate success and add real value to water quality."

But an attorney who represents industries with Clean Water Act permits in Michigan said many fear they will bear most of the burden from the EPA's renewed effort to clean up waterways.

"The weight of the entire program will fall on point dischargers, because the Clean Water Act is very weak on nonpoint source regulation," said Kenneth Gold, of the law firm of Honigman, Miller, Schwartz & Cohn.


Area lakes and rivers and their pollution problems:

Key to the list: Water body (location); size; pollution problem (see key below); when cleanup plan is due (multiple years mean more than one plan is due)

Key to pollution problems:

-- chlordane (causes cancer)

-- combined sewer overflow (sewage in water)

-- DDT (causes cancer and reproductive problems)

-- dioxin (causes cancer)

-- dissolved oxygen (oxygen levels too low to support aquatic life)

-- E.coli (disease-causing bacteria)

-- fish communities rated poor (fish suffering health problems)

-- fish kills (die-offs due to lack of oxygen)

-- macroinvertebrate community rated poor (problems with eels, mussels, etc., basically all of the larger animals other than fish)

-- mercury (causes reproductive and developmental problems)

-- nutrient enrichment (causes excess plant growth that depletes oxygen in water)

-- pathogens (disease-causing organisms)

-- PBBs (cause reproductive problems and other diseases)

-- PCBs (cause cancer)

-- triethylene glycol dichloride, bis-2-chloroethyl ether and tetrachloroethylene (cause cancer)

Grand River

-- Grand River (Lake Michigan confluence upstream to vicinity of Jackson); 230 miles; PCBs; 2009

Allegan Counties

-- Kalamazoo River (Battle Creek River confluence to Lake Michigan, including Morrow Pond, Plainwell Dam area, Lake Allegan and Kalamazoo Lake); 88 miles; PCBs; 2006

Ionia/Kent counties

-- Duck Creek (Coldwater River confluence upstream to Darby Road); 15 miles; macroinvertebrate community rated poor; 2010

-- Tyler Creek/Bear Creek (originates in Ionia County as Bear Creek, then enters SE corner of Kent County as Tyler Creek, a tributary to the Coldwater River); 11 miles; macroinvertebrate and fish communities rated poor, pathogens; 2006

Kent County

-- Ball Creek (Sparta Township); 2.5 miles; macroinvertebrate community rated poor; 2001

-- Buck Creek (Grand River confluence upstream to 68th St.); 10 miles; pathogens; 2006

-- Coldwater River (Morse Lake Avenue upstream to Brown Road near Freeport); 6 miles; pathogens; 2006

-- Duke Creek (NW of Sparta and tributary to Rogue River); 11 miles; macroinvertebrate community rated poor; 2006

-- Grand River (Johnson Park in vicinity of Walker); 1 mile; combined sewer overflow, pathogens; 2006

-- Lincoln Lake (NW of Greenville); 411 acres; mercury; 2011

-- Plaster Creek (Grand River confluence upstream to Dutton Park at Hanna Lake Avenue and 76th Street); 12 miles; fish and macroinvertebrate communities rated poor, pathogens; 2001

-- Stegeman Creek (north of Rockford and tributary to Rouge River, Rector Road in Algoma Township upstream to Courtland Township); 4.5 miles; macroinvertebrate community rated poor; 2006

-- Strawberry Creek (Mill Creek confluence to 2 miles upstream of Grand Rapids); 3 miles; fish community rated poor; 2006

-- Unnamed tributary to Grand River (off Grand River Drive and south of Hordyk Road, east side of Grand Rapids); 1 mile; fish community rated poor; 2006

-- Wabasis Lake (north of Grattan); 418 acres; mercury; 2011

-- York Creek (Grand River confluence upstream to Cordes Avenue); 3.5 miles; fish community rated poor; 2006

Muskegon/Newaygo counties

-- Muskegon Lake and Muskegon River (Lake Michigan confluence upstream to Croton Dam); 40 miles; PCBs, mercury; 2008, 2010

Ottawa County

-- Bass River (Grand River confluence upstream to 92nd St.); 6 miles; pathogens, fish and macroinvertebrate communities rated poor; 2006

-- Deer Creek (Grand River confluence upstream to headwaters, entire watershed including Beaver Creek); 47 miles; dissolved oxygen violations, fish and macroinvertebrate communities rated poor, fish kills, nutrient enrichment, untreated sewage discharge, pathogens; 2011

-- Grand River (vicinity of Grand Haven near gauging station at east end of navigational channel upstream from Lake Michigan); 1 mile; mercury; 2010

-- Lake Macatawa (near Holland); 1,780 acres; PCBs, chlordane; 2009

-- Pigeon River (Olive Township downstream to inlet to Pigeon Lake); 10 miles; fish and macroinvertebrate communities rated poor, nutrient enrichment, nuisance algae growths; 2007

-- Pine Creek (Lakewood Blvd., Parkwood Township); 7 miles; macroinvertebrate community rated poor, pathogens; 2007

-- Rio Grande Creek (Crockery Creek confluence upstream to Chester Township); 0.5 mile; untreated sewage discharge, pathogens; 2002

-- Sand Creek (Chester Township downstream to confluence with Grand River and Tallmadge Township just west of Kent County line); 7 miles; fish community rated poor; 2006

-- Ten Hagen Creek (south of Port Sheldon and tributary to Pigeon River); 5.2 miles; fish and macroinvertebrate communities rated poor; 2006

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.
People:   Kamppinen, Thomas,  Hamilton, Dave,  Dempsey, Dave,  Eder, Tim,  Pontz-Teachout, Vicki
Companies:   Environmental Protection Agency (NAICS: 924110, Sic:9500, Duns:05-794-4910 )
Section:   State
Text Word Count   1780