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Local cities are fighting sewage spills

Wednesday, May 25, 2011   (0 Comments)
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The Blue Water Area has received an important reminder about the status of its water quality. More work must be done to preserve the health of our waters.

St. Clair County ranks 10th on the list of Michigan's worst water polluters. The county has discharged about 7.7 million gallons of raw or partially treated sewage into the St. Clair River during the first four months of this year.

Port Huron, the county's leading polluter, was responsible for nine of 10 discharges. Marysville's was the largest -- about 2.1 million gallons of sewage that overflowed March 5 into the St. Clair River.

The Michigan Transportation and Infrastructure Association issued the rankings last week. The contamination is unacceptable, but it also is a measure of progress.

Port Huron and Marysville, the cities responsible for the county's inclusion in the state's "Dirty Dozen" polluters, are taking action.

Port Huron is in the last portion of a massive, multimillion-dollar project to separate its sewers that started in 1998. So far, the project has cut its sewer overflows by 287 million gallons a year, a 93% reduction, city engineer Bob Clegg said.

The city's sewer separation project is scheduled to be completed Dec. 31, 2016.

Marysville has separated its sewers, but the city now is in the process of expanding its sewage treatment plant to accommodate larger volumes of water. When the $20 million project is finished in November, the plant will be able to store and treat as much as 5 million gallons of sewage and prevent future overflows such as the March discharge.

In addition to noting municipal sewer discharges, the MTIA analysis also serves the organization's agenda. The sewage discharges are proof Michigan's infrastructure needs are being neglected.

"While the dumping of sewage discharge is disappointing, it's not surprising," said an MTIA memo this week to newspaper editorial page editors.

"Since 2005, the state has eliminated all general fund support for underground infrastructure. In Washington, the recently completed FY2011 Clean Water Appropriates bill reduced Michigan's sewer infrastructure investment by about 25% -- or $20 million.

"When we hear about roads and bridges, we see the need for the fix. But ignoring this "out-of-sight, out-of-mind" problem --and disinvesting in -- the state's sewage system has only served to compound the problem."

The MITA is right: Greater attention should be paid to sewer systems. Port Huron's sewer separation project, however, is an example of responsible infrastructure improvement.

The city is replacing its aging water lines, water mains and sewer pipes when it separates the sewers. It also is reconstructing its streets.

Port Huron has a responsibility to end its discharges into the St. Clair River. Five years from now, that goal should be met.

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