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Great Lakes Article:

410 Michigan Water Bodies Fail Federal Water Quality Laws

Grand River still dirty
Lansing sections are not meeting federal guidelines

By Tim Martin
Lansing State Journal
Published 7/15/2002

Michigan rivers are cleaner than they were 30 years ago - but some still aren't fit enough for swimming or eating the fish that live in them.

Sections of the Grand River in Lansing are among the 410 lake and river segments in the state not meeting federal clean water guidelines, according to a 2002 report.

But a sewer separation project undertaken by the city of Lansing provides some promise of a more environmentally sound river.

"It's cleaner, but it's not clean enough,'' said William Creal, environmental manager with the Department of Environmental Quality. "There are still some issues there.''

Occasionally high E. coli counts in some areas hurt the quality of fish and sometimes make swimming inadvisable. E. coli is a bacteria found in the intestines and feces of warm-blooded mammals. When swallowed, it can cause diarrhea and other health problems.

Pollutants from gas, oil and some chemical runoff are also an issue in some areas.

Some of the poorest water quality in the Grand may be through central Lansing, and Waverly Road and Moores River Dam. The downtown Lansing stretch had visible algae growth and trash in spots Sunday.

But most agree the Grand is cleaner than it used to be - and should be even cleaner as sewer separation projects in Lansing and Grand Rapids progress.

"They're working on the problem, so it should only get better from here,'' said Mike Smith, a 52-year-old Portland man who says he was "born and raised" on the Grand.

Cleanup progress has slowed in the past decade or so, environmentalists say, as the list of obvious river pollution sources has dwindled. Easy to identify, major industrial polluters discharging directly into the river have largely been eliminated, but pollution runoff from land and other tough-to-pinpoint sources remain.

"What's left now are the more difficult things,'' said Dave Dempsey of the Michigan Environmental Council.

State officials hope to have a pollution limit set for the Grand near Jackson this year, which could lead to cleaner water flowing upstream to Lansing. But state officials will hold off on finalizing a pollution limit for the Grand near Lansing until 2011, when the sewer project will be further along.

Other low quality stretches include the Red Cedar River where it connects to the Grand near Lansing, and several small Clinton County streams such as Alder Creek, Lost Creek and Peet Creek.

Toxic pollution dumped directly into Michigan rivers and lakes was lowest among Great Lakes states in 1999, according to a recent report from the Michigan Environmental Council. Authors measured pollution compared to the productivity of industry in the states.

Michigan had developed pollution limits for about 5 percent of its low-quality rivers. That's better than some states, but far behind Pennsylvania, which had set limits for 15 percent of its streams.

Michigan has about 49,000 miles of rivers and streams. The state has about 27,800 miles of rivers that flow year-round.

About 80 percent of the state's year-round rivers have been assessed for water quality. About 75 percent of assessed river miles meet water quality standards.

About 3 percent of assessed Michigan river miles aren't fit for swimming, according to a 2002 DEQ report. And people should be cautious about eating the fish caught in about 7 percent of Michigan's assessed river miles.

"We've made significant strides since the Clean Water Act of the early 1970s,'' said Bethany Renfer, program coordinator for the environmental group Clean Water Action.

"But we're still far short of its original goal - zero discharge into rivers, and making them all swimmable and fishable.''

About 410 bodies of water in Michigan are listed as not meeting clean water standards by the Department of Environmental Quality. Here's the 2002 list for Ingham, Clinton and Eaton counties:

Alder Creek

  • Location: Ovid Township, Clinton County; 3-mile stretch upstream of Woodworth Road crossing.

  • Problem: Fish community rated poor; nuisance algae.

  • Pollution limit/cleanup plan: 2009

    Carrier Creek

  • Location: Eaton County, Delta Township; 4-mile stretch from Grand River to I-496.

  • Problem: Macroinvertebrate population considered poor.

  • Pollution limit/cleanup plan: 2002

    Cox Drain

  • Location: Essex Township, Clinton County; 5.7-mile stretch from Hayworth Creek to Hyde Road.

  • Problem: Fish community rated poor; nuisance algae.

  • Pollution limit/cleanup plan: 2009

    Grand River

  • Location: Grand Ledge; half-mile stretch.

  • Problem: Sewage overflow; pathogens.

  • Pollution limit/cleanup plan: 2008

    Grand River/Red Cedar River

  • Location: Ingham County; 12-mile stretch from Webster Road upstream to Moores River Dam on the Grand; upstream to Kalamazoo Street on the Red Cedar.

  • Problem: Sewage overflows; pathogens; fish kills.

  • Pollution limit/cleanup plan: 2011

    Grand River/Moores Park Impoundment

  • Location: Lansing; Moores Park Dam to Waverly Road covering 110 acres.

  • Problem: Mercury

  • Pollution limit/cleanup plan: 2011

    Lost Creek

  • Location: Clinton County; 2.5 mile-stretch between Townsend and Walker roads east of Pewamo

  • Problem: Fish community rated poor; algae growth; bacterial slime

  • Pollution limit/cleanup plan: 2009

    Maple River

  • Location: East of Maple River State Game Area in Clinton, Gratiot and Shiawassee counties; 28-mile stretch upstream to area southeast of Ovid.

  • Problem: Nutrient enrichment; nuisance plant growth

  • Pollution limit/cleanup plan: 2009

    Peet Creek

  • Location: Clinton County; 6-mile stretch through Lebanon, Dallas and Essex townships.

  • Problem: Nutrient enrichment, nuisance plants

  • Pollution limit/cleanup plan: 2009

    Portage Creek

  • Location: Ingham County; 3-mile stretch from Shepper Road to Stockbridge.

  • Problem: Fish and macroinvertebrate communities rated poor.

    Pollution limit/cleanup plan: 2008

    Red Cedar River

  • Location: Ingham County, east of Williamston; 1 mile stretch upstream from Harris Road.

  • Problem: Pathogens; fish and macroinvertebrate communities rated poor

  • Pollution limit/cleanup plan: 2011

    Spaulding Creek

  • Location: Clinton County; 7-mile stretch upstream from Grove Road near Stony Creek.

  • Problem: Nutrient enrichment; algae growth

  • Pollution limit/cleanup plan: 2004

    Vermilion Creek

  • Location: Ingham and Shiawassee counties; 6.5-mile stretch from Woodbury Road to County Line Lake.

  • Problem: Sewage discharge; pathogens.

  • Pollution limit/cleanup plan: 2009On the Web

  • The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality: www.michigan.gov/deq

    Contact Tim Martin at 377-1061 or tmartin@lsj.com.

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