Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Flint Water and KWA: Editorial Gets It Wrong

The Port Huron Times Herald published an editorial on March 28, 2016 about the Flint water tragedy, the related construction of a new pipeline by the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA), and the final report of the governor’s Task Force.The four concluding paragraphs of the editorial are:

The task force report calls the resulting lead poisoning a failure of the emergency manager process. The first failure was Snyder and his emergency managers not recognizing how irresponsibly, stunningly wasteful the Karegnondi Water Authority project is.

“State and local officials repeatedly characterized Genesee County and Flint leadership, including Flint’s emergency managers, as adamant in their promotion of KWA and desire for independence from DWSD,” the report says. Wouldn’t it have been better for Detroit’s emergency manager, who we would hope was on the same team as Flint’s manager and Snyder, to fix the unjust rates? (Emphasis added.)

It is difficult to imagine, but there was nobody who could determine whether spending $300 million on KWA’s pipeline parallel to Detroit’s was good fiscal policy. Self-interested parties told Flint and Genesee County it was a great idea. So they asked the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for an analysis.

MDEQ can’t do its own job. Asking it for economic analysis — even if conclusions are obvious — is irresponsible.


Fix the unjust DWSD water service rates? Who are they kidding? What the editorial overlooks is how irresponsibly, stunningly wasteful, incompetently managed, corrupt and looted DWSD, the heart of Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s organized crime syndicate, was.

Reservations I’ve expressed about emergency management under Kevyn Orr aside, there wasn’t enough time (and absolutely no credit) before or during bankruptcy to fix DWSD, thus fix its rates. (All the King’s horses…)

In this context, the creation of KWA was, in my view, an act of desperation.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Local Phragmites Eradication / State Grants

“Phragmites australis (frag-MY-teez), also known as common reed, is a perennial, wetland grass that can grow to 15 feet in height … [A]n invasive, non-native, variety of phragmites is becoming widespread and is threatening the ecological health of wetlands ... Invasive phragmites creates tall, dense stands which degrade wetlands and coastal areas by crowding out native plants and animals ...”


Phragmites is spreading rapidly across Michigan, from shorelines and roadside ditches to just about any wet nook and cranny.

Fortunately, a new means of controlling invasive plant species is being implemented. It is called a Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area or CISMA.

“The Michigan Invasive Species Grant Program, launched by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources [MDNR] in 2014, awarded $4.2 million to groups in its first year for projects ranging from mapping oak wilt on private lands to creating a network for data on invasive species.”

“The program recently announced another $3.6-million round that will expand the range and impact of the program around the state. Two of the grants are going to groups in metro Detroit.”

One of the groups is in Oakland County. (The other is for Lake St. Clair.) Brittany Bird is vice chair of the Oakland County CISMA. She says that there are 62 independent home rule municipalities in Oakland County to which the county cannot dictate management of nuisance species like phragmites. Cooperation has to be negotiated with municipalities in order to devise a seamless eradication program. The Oakland group is comprised of a number of municipalities, county agencies and NGOs. MDNR’s initial award to the Oakland County CISMA is $243,775.

Similarly, the Lake St. Clair group includes diverse participants such as nonprofits and local, county and state agencies.

Officials of cities, townships and villages not yet participating are encouraged to join an existing group or form one of their own.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Clearing Phragmites from Wetlands

Clean water in Lake St. Clair depends in significant part on healthy shoreline wetlands.

Mallard Ducklings - Mike Powell

Wetlands slow and filter storm runoff, provide shelter for fish, birds and other wildlife and incubate their young. But a vast array of native wetlands plant life is being choked out by invasive plants.

One in particular spreads rapidly, the ubiquitous tall reed with the feathery top that you see in wet places where there used to be cattails. It is phragmites (frag-MY-teez), an invasive plant from Europe.

Phragmites grows in thickets that now dominate many Great Lakes shorelines, as well as inland ponds, lake shores and ditches.

In addition to displacing other plants, dense stands of phragmites crowd out birds, mammals and amphibians. The plant also inhibits commercial and recreational uses.

Eighty percent of the phragmites plant is underground. It can reach heights of 15 feet or more. The roots can radiate 60 feet, reach a depth of six feet and expand outward at the rate of six feet per year. These giant weeds spread more rapidly by their roots and broken fragments than by seeds.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency committed nearly a million dollars to a 1200 acre (later expanded) phragmites eradication project undertaken by Ducks Unlimited, which provided matching funds, around northern Lake St. Clair from 2010 to 2013.  http://glri.us/projects/epa.html

A Ducks Unlimited spokesman reported:

The spread of highly invasive Phragmites (Phragmites australis) is a recent and major factor in the degradation of Lake St. Clair’s coastal wetlands. The recent decrease in Great Lakes water levels has lead to the expansion of emergent vegetation in the littoral zone of Lake St. Clair; however, lower water levels have also facilitated the rapid expansion of Phragmites. In many areas of Lake St. Clair, Phragmites is expanding at a much faster rate than native emergent plants. With its strong capacity to spread by rhizomes, near-monotypic stands of invasive Phragmites have replaced high quality, complex communities of native plants, leading to loss of fish and wildlife habitat, biodiversity, and a native plant community resiliency. In addition to impacts on the area’s natural resources, the residents of Lake St. Clair have also observed ecological, economic and social impacts as a result of the Phragmites invasion.

Ducks Unlimited (DU) along with project partners approached this project through 3 primary components: 1) an integrated management effort to control Phragmites on both public and private coastal wetlands through aerial and ground herbicide treatments, followed by mowing, burning and spot herbicide treatments, 2) monitoring the response of native vegetation and avifauna to these enhancement efforts, and 3) implementation of a public education and outreach program to inform citizens about the impacts and effective management of Phragmites.

The work continues through successive phases.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Michigan's Impaired Waters

Photo : Flickr: Kelly Nighan

Outlining its duties under the Clean Water Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) explains:

Implementing Clean Water Act Section 303(d): Impaired Waters and Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs)

A TMDL is a pollution budget and includes a calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant that can occur in a waterbody and allocates the necessary reductions to one or more pollutant sources. A TMDL serves as a planning tool and potential starting point for restoration or protection activities with the ultimate goal of attaining or maintaining water quality standards.Under section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act, states, territories and authorized tribes (included in the term State here) are required to submit lists of impaired waters. These are waters that are too polluted or otherwise degraded to meet water quality standards. The law requires that the states establish priority rankings for waters on the lists and develop Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) for these waters. Lists of impaired waters and TMDLs are reviewed in EPA’s regional offices.  http://www.epa.gov/tmdl

Michigan reports 2,584 impaired waters, the most of any state in the Union except Pennsylvania.

Here’s where you find the ugly details. Start with:


Executive Summary, p. xi (selected passages):
The federal Water Pollution Control Act (PL 92-500), also known as the Clean Water Act (CWA),requires states to provide the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) with an assessment of the quality of their waters [Section 305(b)], a list of waters that do not support their designated uses or attain Water Quality Standards (WQS) and require the development of Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) [Section 303(d)], and an assessment of status and trends of publicly owned lakes (Section 314)...
A primary objective of this [Integrated Report or IR] is to describe attainment status of Michigan’s surface waters relative to the designated uses specified in Michigan’s WQS. Michigan’s WQS are consistent with the Great Lakes Initiative, establish minimum water quality requirements by which the waters of the state are to be managed, and provide the primary framework that guides the MDEQ’s water quality monitoring/assessment and water protection activities. To describe the attainment status of surface waters, each water body is placed in at least one of five reporting categories based upon the degree of designated use support, the amount of information known about the water body’s water quality status, and the type of impairment preventing designated use support…
...Overall, many of Michigan’s surface waters are impacted by polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and mercury and consequently do not support the other indigenous aquatic life and wildlife designated use and/or the fish consumption designated use. Atmospheric deposition is considered to be the major source of these persistent bioaccumulative chemicals. Excluding PCBs and mercury, physical/chemical and biological assessments of inland lakes and rivers indicate designated uses are supported in a majority of water bodies.

But wait a minute! Consider how many other states could paint just as rosy a picture as Michigan does here if they, too, excluded PCB and mercury pollution.

The MDEQ people who wrote the Integrated Report were disingenuous. “Atmospheric deposition” (or deposited through the air) might explain how mercury from the coal-fired power plant in Bay City got into Saginaw Bay, but it doesn’t explain how PCBs get into our water.

I’ve looked closely at the Ten Mile Drain Superfund site. PCB didn’t materialize out of the air into the Lange Street and Revere Street canals. Somebody dumped PCB-laden oil on a dirt parking lot (probably to control dust) near the intersection of Harper Road and Bon Brae Street in St. Clair Shores, MI, and it migrated through sewers to the canals.

I’ve also examined records concerning the South Branch of the Shiawassee River Superfund site. PCB there didn’t fall out of the sky, either. It came from the Cast Forge Co. of Howell, MI.

The fact remains, Michigan has the second worst record in the country for impaired waters. Why? Readers are urged to delve further into MDEQ’s 2014 Integrated Report and draw their own conclusions.

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