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Great Lakes Article:

Detroit rated 'poor' for protecting drinking water sources
By Chad Selweski
The Macomb Daily
06/12/03



Failure to protect wetlands surrounding Lake St. Clair from suburban sprawl threatens the drinking water supply for more than 2 million residents in southeast Michigan, according to a national report released Wednesday.

The report by the Natural Resources Defense Council gave the Detroit water system a "poor" rating for failing to protect its drinking water sources, such as Lake St. Clair, from pollution which results from storm water runoff and a lack of wetlands to protect the waterways.

"When we look at the wetlands that filter the runoff ... there isn't that much remaining," said Cyndi Roper of Clean Water Action, which released the NRDC report.

Roper called on the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to play a leadership role in protecting wetlands from development.

Environmentalists say wetlands are disappearing at a rapid pace, the victim of sprawl. Clean Water Action has teamed with a Chesterfield Township group, Saving Wetlands and Trees, or SWAT, to preserve a 160-acre wooded area near Jefferson and Sugarbush roads. The area is believed to be one of only two or three large, forested wetlands left near the Lake St. Clair shoreline.

Wetlands store and filter storm water runoff that contains contaminants such as fertilizer, gasoline and motor oil. The result is that fish and wildlife are protected from pollutants, and algae growth in the lake is minimized.

The Detroit water department considers the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments the "ideal forum" to discuss storm water pollution. But DWSD Director Victor Mercado is willing to put wetlands preservation on his agenda.

"It is not a proposal that has been presented to the DWSD or the water board but it is one that Victor Mercado is willing to entertain," said department spokesman George Ellenwood.

Nancy Orweyler, a SWAT founder whose property includes a portion of the Chesterfield Township wetlands, said the DWSD should take a broader view. If the department makes a greater effort to keep the lake cleaner, she said, Detroit will have less expense at its water treatment plants to clean and filter the water.

"(Officials) are willing to build huge water treatment plants but government doesn't seem inclined to save wetlands for their purification value," Orweyler said.

More than half of the region, 2.5 million people, receive some or all of their drinking water from Lake St. Clair water that flows into intake pipes at Belle Isle. The DWSD considers that inflow Detroit River water and Great Lakes water, not simply Lake St. Clair water.

A separate report released Tuesday by another environmental group, the Public Interest Research Group in Michigan, warned that suburban sprawl is hurting eight natural areas in Michigan, including Metro Beach.

The PIRGIM report contends that suburban sprawl in Macomb and Oakland county communities has led to beach closings at Metro since 1994. Runoff leads to sewage system overflows and to pollutants spilling into the Clinton River and its tributaries, which flow into the lake, the report said.

"Paving over wetlands and fields with parking lots, roads, malls and subdivisions has guaranteed higher volumes of runoff reaching the lake," PIRGIM said.

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