Wayne, Oakland, Macomb released sewage into waterways, report says
Thursday, May 12, 2011
Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties are among a dirty dozen in the state that have released a combined 15 billion gallons of sewage into Michigan's lakes, rivers and streams since January, according a report released Wednesday.
But the charges caused a flurry of indignation from counties and municipalities that said the statistics are misleading.
The Michigan Infrastructure Transportation Association quoted state Department of Environmental Quality data that calculated the release of all treated and untreated sewage. MITA dubbed the counties the Dirty Dozen.
Local officials said the report overstates the level of pollution by lumping together untreated raw sewage and partially treated discharges that happen when pipes and basins become overloaded by rain. When that happens, partially treated sewage that has had bacteria, viruses and solid materials removed is released, but treated discharges are not harmful to humans and meet federal discharge standards.
"It's a misrepresentation," said Kerreen Conley, Wayne County facilities management director.
Brad Wurfel, a department spokesman, said the association's number "misstates the severity of the situation."
An even greater pollution threat is what's called non-source point pollution, which means the exact source of the pollution can't be determined. That can be anything from road oil or lawn fertilizer washed into storm drains, to major pollution such as the PCB pollution in a St. Clair Shores canal. The Environmental Protection Agency has been working there for years to determine its source.
"What MITA did, they literally took all of the overflows reported, in compliance with the Clean Water Act or not, and lumped them into one category, so it gives the reader a false sense of exactly what's transpired," said Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner John McCulloch. "We appropriately treat our combined storm water and sewage and meet Clean Water Act standards."
MITA is an industry group representing companies that build roads, bridges and water and sewage plants, said Megan Brown of the public relations firm Truscott and Rossman, which distributed the report.
"What we're trying to do is send a message to lawmakers at both the national and state level that they need to provide appropriate levels of financial support for our state infrastructure," said Keith Ledbetter of MITA. "Today's report highlights just how devastating this system is."
McCulloch criticized the association's approach, but said "it does come back to the fact that we don't have a federal funding program that addresses this issue." In Macomb County, 0.1% of discharges are raw sewage, said Brent Avery, operations manager for the county's public works.
"We must meet water quality standards," he said.
About MITA, he said: "They're trying to drum up business and I understand that and appreciate that. I just don't appreciate the method."