Wednesday, July 29, 2015

KWA Water: Less Expensive for Detroit's Northern Suburbs?

Last year, water service from the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department (DWSD) to the City of Flint was terminated in anticipation of Flint receiving tap water from the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA), a creation of Genesee County’s drain commissioner.  KWA’s pipeline from Lake Huron was then (and still is) under construction.  The project is expected to be completed by June 2016.

During the interim, Flint has been processing water from the Flint River.  Flint residents have complained about the taste, smell and appearance of the treated river water.  There have been occasions when state inspectors have found the water to be below federal standards.  The city contends that the water is safe to drink.

(A group of residents asked a federal judge in Flint to order the city to reconnect to the Detroit water system, but this past June the judge refused.)

KWA announced last month that it had awarded a contract to begin construction of a water treatment plant near the Genesee-Lapeer border to tie into the new pipeline.

With KWA’s water system scheduled to be completed in a year or less, the prospect of a new source of water for communities in northern Oakland and Macomb counties arises.  While DWSD’s successor, the regional Great Lakes Water Authority, continues to operate more, costly water treatment plants than it needs, the possibility of less expensive water from KWA will be tempting; and due diligence requires that the potential for savings be examined.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Who's Minding Our Rivers? (Part 2)

Kalamazoo River (oil pipeline) -  On July 25, 2010 in western Lower Michigan, a badly corroded Enbridge Energy pipeline was carrying crude oil from the Canadian tar sands.  It ruptured, contaminating a marsh, Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River.  Officials calculated that 1.1 million gallons of heavy crude spilled into the watershed, requiring extensive clean-up, including a 25 mile stretch of the river.

Enbridge had been alerted to the problem by alarms at its Edmonton, Alberta control facilities but delayed notifying authorities in the U.S.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was ill prepared for a spill of this type of heavy, tar sands crude.  By 2012, clean-up costs were thought to be about three-quarters of a billion dollars and still rising.

The U.S. Department of Transportation enumerated 22 probable violations on the part of Enbridge.

After the initial clean-up, EPA determined that hundreds of thousands of gallons of the heavy crude remained on the river bottom, and in early 2013 ordered that the clean-up resume.

*****     *****     *****

Black River (manure) - In August 2009, runoff from illegal manure spreading on a farm near Croswell, upstream from Port Huron, Michigan, killed virtually all of the aquatic life (including more than 200,000 fish) along many miles of the Lawson Drain, Seymore Creek, Black Creek and Black River.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) pursued legal action against the dairy farm which generated the manure and the manure management company that spread it on crop land.

The manure applicators had spread more than a million gallons of liquid and solid manure over wheat stubble on August 7th; nearly 300,000 gallons on August 8th; and about 250,000 gallons on August 11th -- all without incorporating the manure into the soil.

It rained about an inch on both August 8th and August 10th.  On August 11th when state environmental investigators located the site, liquid manure could be seen running from the field surface and tiles.

Oxygen in the water was consumed by bacteria in the manure, leaving insufficient quantities for other life forms, killing most of them.

*****     *****     *****

Acme Creek/East Grand Traverse Bay (construction) - In September and October 2014, people in the Traverse City area reported that enormous volumes of silt were running off a 160 acre multi-use construction site into surrounding wetlands, Acme Creek and East Grand Traverse Bay in northwest Lower Michigan.  

The construction contractor had a special use permit to clear vegetation and topsoil off the entire 160 acre site and did so all at once during the summer.  Heavy rainfall followed in September and October.  Plumes of silt flowed into the east bay.  As the silt settled to the bottom, a multitude of tiny organisms, eggs, larvae and habitat were endangered.

*****     *****     *****

In the Kalamazoo River disaster, were government inspections of Enbridge’s old, corroded oil pipeline sufficient?  No.

Concerning the calamity in the Black River, had MDEQ provided adequate education, training and oversight to the manure applicators?  Obviously not.

At the Acme Creek construction site, did MDEQ’s
  • failure to conduct timely inspections,
  • reckless disregard of the topsoil stripping,
  • lack of sufficient soil erosion control requirements, and
  • ignoring insufficient maintenance of what little controls there were
border on malfeasance?  Obviously so.

In each case, fines were levied.  But fines can’t undo the damage.

The public deserves better.

*****     **jl**     *****

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

PR for Saginaw Area Dioxin Clean-Up

The following shows how well EPA (Region 5) handles public relations concerning a Superfund dioxin clean-up in the Saginaw-Midland, Michigan area:

The next meeting of the Saginaw-Tittabawassee Rivers Contamination Community Advisory Group will be from 6:00 p.m. - 8:30 p.m., Monday, July 20 at the Tittabawassee Township Memorial Park Building, 150 Park Street, Freeland. An optional new member orientation will be held at 5:00 p.m. for new or interested CAG members.

The CAG meets to discuss issues related to the Superfund site and its cleanup. These meetings are open to the public and are mostly held on the third Monday of every other month. The group was established to represent the interests of the community and to share information and make recommendations to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on the cleanup of the rivers and bay. Learn more at

If you have questions please contact Diane Russell, at 989-401-5507 or

You may also call Region 5 toll-free at 800-621-8431, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., weekdays. More information is at

  • 5:00 PM New Member Orientation (optional)
  • All are welcome to attend, we did not conduct one last year
  • 6:00 PM Introductions
Agenda Review
  • Check in with public
  • 6:10 PM CAG Updates
  • 2015 New Member Introductions
  • EPA Community conference August 2015
  • Possible additional Fall meeting
  • Other comments
  • 6:30 PM Project updates
  • 7:00 PM Institutional Controls Overview and Q&A
  • 8:15 PM Public questions and comments
  • 8:30 PM Adjourn

Monday, July 13, 2015

Price Increase? Detroit's Water Scam

Detroit’s water department says it has to jack up the price of potable water because the consumer base is shrinking while the cost of producing water is mostly fixed.   

Yes, the customer population is shrinking, but the truth is that the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department (DWSD) has had too much water production capacity for years.  Ratepayers have been carrying the cost unnecessarily.

The following is quoted from the analysis of Veolia in its Peer Review Report to DWSD in December 2014 (p.14) -- note that the overcapacity issue is anticipated to fall on DWSD’s post bankruptcy successor, the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA):

5. Right-Sizing Capacity

Reduce the long-term expense of operating and maintaining capacity surplus to requirements

GLWA’s significant water production over-capacity should be right-sized in order to reduce both capital investment requirements and operations costs. The necessary analysis could be done to reach a revised capacity decision in the next 12 to 18 months and Veolia recognizes that work is already underway in this regard. It is critical, however, to increase the speed and urgency of executing this particular initiative.

Indeed, existing discussions about closing one water treatment plant have been ongoing for many years. With almost twice the capacity of water treatment required, Veolia considers it both reasonable and responsible to execute this plan unless an alternative method of utilizing the excess capacity is identified. One such option includes selling it to other communities.

It is beyond the scope of this report to calculate the net detailed savings that would result from these approaches; however, the benefits would be significant in terms of both operational and capital savings, freeing up resources for other important initiatives.

Veolia recommends expeditiously determining if there is a reasonable possibility of selling water to other communities, while at the same time evaluating which of the plants to consider shutting down.

As I wrote this past February, closing at least one of DWSD’s five water plants should be a condition precedent to finalizing a regional water deal.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Invasive Mussel Collaborative webinar July 22

I wrote earlier that initial trials to confirm the specific effect on invasive zebra and quagga mussels of the bacterium in the pesticide Zequanox were successful.  Also, it was determined that dead bacteria were just as effective as live ones in killing the mussels.  

Dr. Daniel Molloy, who discovered this lethal quality, concluded that toxins in the bacteria, not infection, kill the mussels, lowering even more the potential risk to other species.  Researchers    anticipated that open-water application would be effective.

Zequanox was successfully applied, in combination with two toxic chemicals, to the invasive mussel infestation of Christmas Lake in Minnesota.

So the question occurred to me, why don’t we use Zequanox to clean the alien mussels out of Lake St. Clair?

Well, the simple answer is that the cost would be too high.

According to Susan Cosier in onEarth magazine (May 2015), Dr. Molloy says, “... we need something that gets into every nook and cranny of the Great Lakes—and something that doesn’t cost a fortune to use repeatedly.”  Cosier continues, “Applying the pesticide to 3,000 square feet of Minnesota’s Christmas Lake cost $6,800. Lake Erie, by comparison, has a surface area of 9,990 square miles.”

Where do we go from here?  That is the question being addressed by the Invasive Mussel Collaborative, a joint undertaking by the U.S. Geological Survey, Great Lakes Commission, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Great Lakes Fishery Commission.

The Collaborative is presenting a webinar, Lessons learned from recent open-water applications and field trials of Zequanox®” on July 22, 2015 10:00-11:30 am Eastern.

Register now to reserve your spot!

The webinar will feature presentations from representatives of the following agencies:
  • Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
  • Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
  • U.S. Geological Survey

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Milwaukee Tackles Stormwater

I’ve written on this blog before, “The lesson over and over again is that big, downstream, end-of-the-pipe processes and facilities by themselves aren’t the solution to combined storm and wastewater overflows in large metropolitan areas.”

Susan Nusser reported in Urban Milwaukee on May 28, 2015 that the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) is implementing watershed based management and triple bottom line accounting.

rain garden, Milwaukee.jpg

“Watershed-based management shifts the management of water resources from a gray infrastructure model: channeling water quickly and efficiently to a central location, treating it, and returning it to its source, to a green infrastructure model in which water is managed where it  lands.”

(Bear in mind that in Detroit, combined storm and wastewater surging through an inadequate gray infrastructure during major storms usually overwhelms the system, resulting in raw sewage or partially treated sewage being dumped into the region’s rivers and from there into Lake Erie.)

“...[A] new watershed permit enabled [upstream communities] to share costs on larger projects that would benefit the watershed, which means individual municipalities now get credit for work even though it’s not wholly within their political boundaries.”

MMSD’s decision years ago to practice triple bottom line accounting made collaboration on the new permit easier.  The new accounting system takes into account social, environmental and financial costs.

“Far better than building more expensive and high-maintenance tunnels and pipes was an approach allowing the water to be absorbed where it landed, and partnering with other entities and pooling resources for solutions.”

Nevertheless, “...MMSD’s goals far exceed those [Milwaukee] is on track to achieve. Currently the city is only capturing about 14 million gallons of storm water…”  The city’s goal is to increase green infrastructure by 10 percent annually.

Nusser quotes Milwaukee Commissioner of Public Works Ghassan Korban, “That’s how you start...You raise the bar. You set high expectations and you get everybody to collaborate and try to achieve the goal.”