Monday, October 17, 2016

Oakland Justifies Lake St. Clair Pollution

For years, local authorities have treated combined sewer overflows (CSOs) with chlorine to kill bacteria in preparation for diverting the overflow following heavy rains away from wastewater treatment plants and into natural water bodies.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been urging state and local officials to convert combined sewer systems into separate sanitary and stormwater sewer systems.

“Oakland County dumped 2 billion gallons of sewage into Macomb in August storm”“Several hours after the Aug. 11 [2014] storm, the polluted Red Run Drain in Warren was still about 20 feet above its normal level.”

Thereafter, pathogens, toxins and nutrients originating in household wastewater would go to a wastewater treatment plant for removal while the heavy volume of rainwater would flow separately, directly into lakes and streams. Cities like Lansing and Grand Rapids have undertaken such conversions.
Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash justifies not planning for separate stormwater and sanitary sewage systems by arguing that separated stormwater runoff is not treated, so whatever pollutants it carries off streets, parking lots and roofs ends up in lakes and streams.

Presently, Nash sends combined storm and sanitary effluent from the giant Kuhn Retention Basin in Madison Heights to a wastewater treatment plant in Detroit.

If heavy rainfall threatens to overwhelm the treatment plant, Nash partially treats the combined fluids with chlorine to control pathogens such as bacteria and sends the deluge into Red Run, through Macomb County to the Clinton River and Lake St. Clair.

But the sanitary sewage component contains the nutrients like phosphorus that are found in human waste. Those nutrients generate algal blooms, some with toxic potential, that contribute to the degradation of Lake St. Clair.

In other words, Nash seems content to pass on to Lake St. Clair the pollutants in the waste of hundreds of thousands of people rather than the separated stormwater running off roofs and pavements.

Go figure.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Corps of Engineers Relents, Will Dredge Cleveland Ship Channel

James F. McCarty reports in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on October 3, 2016:
CLEVELAND, Ohio – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced late Monday that it would dredge the upper reaches of the Cuyahoga River shipping channel where sediment has been piling up, forcing cargo ships to "light load" during deliveries to the ArcelorMittal steel mill.
The Army Corps ended its year-long refusal to dredge on the condition that, if the agency prevails in a federal court lawsuit, Ohio would reimburse the Corps for the additional costs required to dump the sediment into Dike 10, a confined disposal facility on the Lake Erie shoreline near Burke Lakefront Airport.
The Army Corps has maintained the sediment is nontoxic and safe enough for open lake disposal. But the Ohio EPA disagreed and blocked that action, maintaining that the sediment is too polluted with PCBs. 

ArcelorMittal Steel - Cleveland

OCTOBER 16, 2016 UPDATE: Following court proceedings, the Corp of Engineers has awarded a $3.7 million contract to dredge the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland. It is anticipated that dredging will start soon.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Improve Lake St. Clair by Removing Floodplain Sediments

Michigan and Ontario residents alarmed about pollution in Lake St. Clair shouldn’t limit their concern to combined sewer overflows. More could be done to improve water quality upstream in the small ditches and creeks that contribute algae-fueling nutrients to rivers like the Clinton and Thames leading to the lake.

Big Spring Run -

Good results are being realized in the Chesapeake Bay watershed from the restoration of floodplains and wetlands far upstream by removing legacy sediment deposits loaded with nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen.

One example is a project in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania which was completed five years ago. Sediment deposits from careless land use practices in the past were removed from 12 acres of bottom land. Four and a half acres of aquatic habitat were restored and reconnected to the watershed, as well.

Sediment removed is said to have been 22,000 tons, including 25 tons of phosphorus and 30 tons of nitrogen.

“Chief among the latest findings is research showing dramatic reductions in surface water temperatures and nitrogen, the re-establishment of threatened species of plants, colonization by the green frog and a 50 percent reduction in sediment leaving the restored ecosystem.”

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Dogs Sniff Out and Back Track Sewage

Lake and beach pollution from human waste in and around Lake St. Clair has led to a lot of finger pointing, but too few solid conclusions as to sources. Are the sources faulty septic tanks, leaky municipal sewage pipes or overflowing retention-treatment basins?

Environmental Canine Services LLC uses dogs to sniff out human waste. The service reports completing 50 projects in 12 states, including 23 in Michigan. The idea was first studied and verified in Santa Barbara, CA six years ago.

Back-tracking human waste in this manner is faster and less expensive than unassisted sampling  and lab testing. Moving upstream, the dogs choose which fork to follow at the confluence of sewers, streams and ditches, leading more quickly to the source of pollution. Simultaneously, samples can be taken at each turn for later confirmation in the lab.

The time is long past due to apply rational process on this subject in place of political wrangling around Lake St. Clair, especially in the Clinton River watershed.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Stormwater Runoff Fees Omitted on 20,000 Detroit Properties

Over 20,000 parcels that contribute stormwater runoff but aren’t being charged will be added to DWSD’s billing system this October.

***  SUMMARY  ***

Every year, billions of gallons of contaminated stormwater runoff and snowmelt pour off roofs, sidewalks, parking lots and other impervious surfaces into Detroit’s combined sewer system, then perhaps to a retention-treatment basin (RTB) and eventually to the wastewater treatment plant. The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD), Detroit’s retail water agency for the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA), says this runoff costs more than $125 million annually.
Federal and state regulators required DWSD to spend more than $1 billion in combined sewer overflow storage facilities (RTBs) to reduce polluted overflows into natural waterways like the Detroit River. The drainage charge to property owners offsets this investment and the drainage treatment costs.
Most DWSD customers have been paying for drainage as part of their water and sewer bills. The City Assessor’s Office and DWSD are working to ensure that all parcels are billed for their share of drainage costs.
DWSD intends to begin a green infrastructure credit program in October. Customers who reduce runoff can earn credits to be applied to their bill. Fair, accurate billing and green infrastructure practices will benefit the city and its residents.
DWSD provides a  Parcel Viewer  on which to search for parcel information by address. Impervious surface area is used to calculate drainage charges. DWSD says it has data from the City Assessor's Office and flyover images to determine impervious surfaces. Property owners who disagree with the data can complete a drainage survey form.
Over 20,000 parcels that contribute stormwater runoff but aren’t being charged will be added to DWSD’s billing system this October. Customers who need to update parcel information or ask questions should contact DWSD.  A Customer Steering Committee meeting has been scheduled for July 14, 2016.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Spectrophotometrics, Water Pollution & Citizen-Scientists

Imagine that seven or eight times a day, different volunteer citizen-scientists around Rochester, MI sampled the waters of Paint Creek, a tributary of the Clinton River, for contaminants.

Or 15 times a day in the Minnow Pond Drain at Farmington Hills, leading to River Rouge.

Or twice a day at the Huron Swamp in White Lake Township, headwaters of the Huron River.

Suppose they used spectrophotometrics available through their smartphones to instantly transmit their findings to a repository set up to collect and collate such data throughout the region.  

Paint Creek

This may be feasible by means of citizen-scientists equipped with smartphones adapted as spectrophotometers, a process created by Dr. Andrew Torelli and his colleagues at Bowling Green State University. Torelli explains (excerpts):

We have been developing simple tools to facilitate education and participation in environmental stewardship initiatives by students and members of the broader public.

Throughout the world, there is growing interest for engaging students and members of the public to participate in environmental water quality testing, however there are challenges in providing non-experts with the means to collect, share and interpret reliable scientific data.

...[W]e have developed software and device technologies that allow users to perform spectrophotometric measurements with color-based water quality test kits using their smartphones 7.

Geo-tagged data collected in the field can be easily shared …

You can read more about this on the website for our project we call GeoGraph.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Water Pollution Reduction Credits

The type of non-point source water pollution reduction project described below may be useful in the Saginaw River watershed, the Black River watershed (upstream of Port Huron and the St. Clair River) and smaller tributaries to Lake St. Clair, such as the Clinton River, Thames River and Belle River.

The Great Lakes Commission* has announced plans to implement water quality trading as a means of reducing the phosphorus overload in western Lake Erie. The principals are the states of Ohio, Indiana and Michigan and the Province of Ontario. Agricultural, environmental and business interests are participating, as well.

The plan targets farms, these days the greatest source by far of waterborne phosphorus. The concept is to permit those most successful in reducing phosphorus running off their fields to sell credits to those less successful, creating competition to be sellers of credits, rather than buyers. Presumably, sanctions more costly than the credits will be imposed on the worst polluters.

Planners hope for field trials next year. (This observer’s view: Don’t hold your breath.)

Called the “Erie P Market,” the project depends on being able to measure reductions in nutrient pollution. Trading would be limited to a portion of such reductions. Funding for the project is being provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“The two-year project also aims to develop a common approach for who can trade with whom, and how, where and when trading can occur, as well as examine ways to verify that conservation practices are working to improve water quality.”


* “The Great Lakes Commission is a United States interstate agency established in 1955 through the Great Lakes Compact, in order to ‘promote the orderly, integrated and comprehensive development, use and conservation of the water resources of the Great Lakes Basin,’ which includes the Saint Lawrence River. The commission provides policy development, coordination, and advocacy on issues of regional concern, as well as communication and research services.”