Sewage Water Macomb County
Thursday, May 26, 2011
By Gene Schabath
The Michigan Infrastructure Transportation Association’s (MITA) so-called analysis of storm water discharges in the state this year that was published May 12 in The Macomb Daily (“Macomb ‘Dirty Dozen’ polluter”) was an irresponsible, disingenuous report that not only lacked credibility but was fraught with errors and intentional misinformation that undermines all of the efforts to educate the public about water pollution abatement efforts in Macomb County.
The first red flag raised about the inaccuracy and distortion of the MITA report is it falsely claimed that Macomb County discharged 1.04 billion gallons of wastewater this year into Macomb County waterways.
It neglected to report that 626 million gallons of the discharge spilled from the George W. Kuhn Retention Basin in Madison Heights, which is in Oakland County. The discharges that came from the George W. Kuhn facility were all treated and disinfected, and complied with state discharge requirements.
Subtract the Madison Heights discharges and that drops the amount released in Macomb to 400 million gallons. According to The Macomb Daily, it was “human waste” that came from the Chapaton and Martin Retention Basins in St. Clair Shores and other sources. That is the furthest thing from the truth when it comes to Chapaton and Martin.
The combined wastewater that enters these two retention treatment basins undergoes a thorough treatment process that includes a continuous injection of the disinfectant hypochlorite, aeration that breaks down bacteria and helps the chlorine to mix with the bacteria, and screening and settling of solids. This thorough process is necessary to bring the tested, state permitted discharges into full compliance with state clean water regulations.
When the combined rain water and sanitary enters Chapaton and Martin, 90 percent is storm water and 10 percent is sanitary flow. It is also important to note that domestic waste water is only 0.1 percent solid because there is such a great dilution factor when you take into account factors such as laundry water and water from sinks and showers.
If the permitted, tested and treated wastewater has to be discharged into Lake St. Clair when the basins are full (the alternative is to let it back up on to basements), the E. coli bacteria count is extremely low, generally in the single digits because of the thorough treatment. That is substantially lower than the state standard used for body contact at bathing beaches.
In the last four years, the E. Coli counts of the discharges coming from Chapaton have averaged seven colonies per 100 milliliters of water and 15 colonies at Martin.
The state standard is 300 colonies, meaning the Chapaton spills are 45 times safer than the state requirement and Martin is 13 times safer.
Brent Avery, superintendent of the Chapaton Retention Treatment facility, said we test for E. coli when the combined wastewater enters Chapaton. Avery said he has seen counts exceeding 1 million colonies. But our thorough treatment process takes care of those high bacteria counts and reduces the E. coli by 99.99 percent.
What MITA did was take all of the discharges — the permitted and treated ones and the illegal untreated discharges — and lumped them together into one category to support their ill-founded assertion that the state’s waters are contaminated with sewage overflows, Avery said.
State environmental officials, in published reports, agreed with us that the MITA report was misleading and vastly overstated, said Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Anthony V. Marroco.
MITA ignored the fact that St. Clair Shores, Eastpointe and Roseville spent more than $80 million in the past decade constructing pollution abatement projects under the guidance of Marrocco.
The Macomb County Public Works Office has also spent another $7 million improving the pumping system and enhancing the rigorous treatment process at Chapaton.
We also spent a sizeable amount of money constructing a 3 million gallon canal next to the 28-million Chapaton treatment basin to hold the permitted and disinfected discharges before they are released into Lake St. Clair. This extra safeguard has reduced the volume and frequency of permitted discharges from going out into the lake.
Not mentioned in the MITA report is that the City of Fraser is near completion of a comprehensive $16 million sanitary sewer construction/pollution abatement project that included the construction of three and one-half miles of 36-inch sewer lines. Within a couple of weeks, the Beacon Lift Station in Fraser will be disconnected and that will mean all sanitary sewage will go to Detroit for treatment, according to Marrocco.
Also not mentioned is that Center Line spent about $8.8 million on pollution abatement on six projects that included manhole rehabilitation, open-cut repair, sectional and full length cured-in-place lining and sewer pipe grouting. These first five projects were focused on reducing the inflow-infiltration into the system. The sixth project, a lift station and outfall sewer Improvements, were designed to increase capacity that can be discharged to the Detroit system.
MITA also never mentioned the Illicit Discharge Elimination Program in Macomb County that has permanently removed 77 million gallons of sewage from our waterways in the last decade by hunting down illicit sewer connections
MITA supposedly showed that Macomb County was the state’s second worse polluter with 1.04 billion gallons. Of course, a quick check of a list of overflows MITA provided shows it was wrong.
Compounding their egregious error was the absurd comment from a MITA official who told The Macomb Daily: “Macomb County really jumps out as a place that has a problem. The figures are really striking.”
The most striking thing about the figures is that they are erroneous to begin with. And even if they tossed out that 626 million gallons coming from Oakland County and concentrated only on the remaining 400 million gallons coming from Macomb, this smaller volume is distorted because most of it is not sewage but treated, state permitted wastewater.
All communities that have treatment facilities will have treated discharges every year and they all must meet water quality standards.