toRreduce E. coli Levels in River on the Fast Track
South Bend Tribune
BERRIEN CENTER -- A tiny intestinal bacteria, E. coli,
has put Indiana and Michigan environmental agencies on
a cramped schedule to complete a procedure to make the
St. Joseph River safer for swimmers.
E. coli is the most pervasive water-borne pollutant in
the country. Some types of E. coli can cause a whole host
of gastrointestinal ailments. The revised Clean Water
Act requires new methods and policies to limit its introduction
into bodies of water.
The schedule for a unified plan covering the entire St.
Joseph River watershed in both states leaves no room for
"We don't have a lot of time to sit around on this
project," said Christine Alexander, an aquatic biologist
with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
The MDEQ and the Indiana Department of Environmental
Management will soon begin coordinating to develop an
internal draft of that plan by July.
The draft must be ready for a 30-day public comment period
beginning in September, ahead of its submission to the
Environmental Protection Agency by November.
Fortunately, reams of data already exist that pin down
the most serious sources of E. coli, namely city sewer
systems and surface runoff from livestock operations.
"We have what I call the sandwiching part -- that
is, sitting down with Indiana and figuring out where the
potential problems are," Alexander said at a meeting
at the Love Creek Nature Center.
The Clean Water Act requirement, already 10 years old,
changes the way state environmental agencies assess their
water pollution problems. Its official title is Total
Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL.
IDEM's TMDL manager, Staci Goodwin, said much of the
same information regarding Indiana's data sets will be
presented from 10 a.m. until noon today at the Mishawaka
Utilities office, 401 E. Jefferson Blvd.
E. coli is the first, but not the only, pollutant the
EPA wants to have re-examined under the TMDL program.
"We have a schedule for PCB and mercury TMDLs between
five and eight years (from now)," said William Creal,
an MDEQ environmental manager.
The methods to restrict these pollutants will be wholly
different, he said. While the EPA has banned PCBs, the
pollutant can slowly seep into a water body from releases
that occurred years ago. Mercury is a major airborne pollutant
that continues to precipitate from the smoke of coal-fired
Creal said the widespread water quality monitoring over
many years shows the St. Joseph River watershed is not
severely affected by the pollutants.
"The quality of the water in this watershed is good,"
While PCB and mercury levels remain fairly constant,
E. coli levels can fluctuate significantly -- even daily.
"(E. coli) data for the St. Joe River is extremely
variable," Alexander said.
A single snapshot of the river's E. coli loading "can
be misleading," Alexander said, because untreated
sewage can surge into the river from municipal combined
sewer overflows after a heavy downpour.
But living E. coli will die in a few days once it has
left its safe harbor, the mammalian gut.
By that time, the dead or dying organisms may already
be flushed out into Lake Michigan.
Farm feedlot operations are a major contributor to E.
coli discharges into waterways, especially when animals
are allowed to wade in streams.
New EPA rules to control non-point pollution from large-scale
livestock farms had barely begun to take effect when three
national environmental organizations on Friday challenged
the Bush administration with a lawsuit saying the administration
is trying to relax those rules.
The groups are the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources
Defense Council and the Waterkeeper Alliance.
Alexander said E. coli from streams and tributaries to
the St. Joe can have a substantial impact on the water
quality of the river at times.
If tributaries are also discharging large amounts of
E. coli into the river, "then the concentrations
of E. coli can add up in a hurry," she said.