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.

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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