rated 'poor' for protecting drinking water sources
By Chad Selweski
The Macomb Daily
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
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
"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
"Paving over wetlands and fields with parking lots,
roads, malls and subdivisions has guaranteed higher volumes
of runoff reaching the lake," PIRGIM said.