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Great Lakes Article:

Pollution sources to be discussed in Michigan and Indiana

Reports show E. coli comes from many places
By Sue Lowe
South Bend Tribune

It's going to take some changes by lots of people to clean up the St. Joseph River.

People from agencies that are charged with protecting the environment in Michigan and Indiana recently completed a study on one form of pollution, E. coli, and found it's not all coming from pipes that dump somebody's waste into the river.

It's coming from things like private septic systems and livestock wading into the river or the smaller streams that run into it.

Meetings on the research will be held at 9:30 a.m. (Michigan time)Wednesday in the Love Creek Nature Center in Berrien Center and at 6 p.m. (Indiana time) Thursday in the Mishawaka-Penn-Harris Library in downtown Mishawaka.

E. coli is tiny bacteria that comes from the intestinal tract of warm-blooded animals.

The bacteria don't live long outside the bodies of animals or birds, so if E. coli is found in the water, there are traces of feces there, too.

And since it's fairly easy to test for E. coli, it's used as the indicator of possible problems.

The bacteria live naturally in our bodies, and most of them are harmless. But some of them and some of the pathogens that accompany them can make people sick.

The St. Joseph River has been designated as impaired from where it enters Indiana east of Elkhart through Elkhart and St. Joseph counties in Indiana and Berrien County in Michigan until it runs into Lake Michigan.

Because of that, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) have written Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) reports required by the federal government.

The first drafts of those reports will be reviewed at the meetings.

Staci Goodwin, who is in charge of the Indiana side of the research, said it shows that the E. coli is "probably something that's there (in the river) all the time."

That means it's not just washing in during heavy rains.

"It can be just that people need education," she said. "Their septic systems may just not be maintained. It may never have been brought to people's attention that letting cattle stand in the stream could be causing a problem."

She said IDEM will write an implementation plan on how to control E. coli, although most of the actual work will have to be done locally.

Christine Alexander, with the Michigan agency involved, said that state will also come up with an implementation plan.

The Michigan report says units of government along the river may be required to control sources, including storm water runoff.

The Indiana report discusses studies and projects intended to eliminate all sources of pollution in the St. Joseph or its tributaries and said they have begun to have some success.

The two reports include technical informational with the exact amounts of E. coli found at various points in the river along with graphs showing how conditions in the river, including the volume of water, relate to the amount of pollutants.

The object of all that is to figure out how much E. coli discharged into the river from various sources has to be reduced in order for the river to be clean enough for people to swim in it.

The public now has a chance to comment on the reports, and those reports must be submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for approval.

The IDEM reports says that the river is clean enough not to be considered impaired from where it enters Indiana from Michigan to Elkhart.

Although there is E. coli in the river even when the weather is dry, the reports from both states show conditions are worse just after a rain. Rain washes E. coli from sources such as agriculture into the stream but probably the largest increase comes from sewage plants along the river.

In most of the sewer systems in the United States, storm water and sewage from homes and businesses all go to the water treatment plant.

On a normal day that works fine, but during a rain storm, there's too much water for the treatment plant to handle, so it goes directly into the river through an overflow pipe, taking sewage from homes and families with it.

Elkhart and Mishawaka have submitted plans to correct the problem to the state and federal governments. Goshen and Wakarusa must submit their plans by the end of 2004 and South Bend must submit its plans by the end of 2005.

In Michigan, Niles and St. Joseph have started the process of eliminating the discharges.

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