Flint water crisis, beach closings & sewage in our rivers

The Flint water crisis is known worldwide as a public health and economic disaster caused, in part, by a colossal failure to fix worn out infrastructure. Water systems in many Michigan communities are just as old.

Due to water contaminated with E. coli and other pollutants, dozens of Michigan beaches and stretches of rivers are closed to swimming and fishing for days and weeks each summer to protect public health.

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Infrastructure threats to Michigan’s drinking and recreational waters

Many parts of the state’s community water systems are nearing the end of their design life.

Michigan’s community water systems “face a significant shortfall in capital funds to maintain the aging infrastructure. Along with the cost to maintain treatment operations, the need to replace antiquated infrastructure including pumps, piping, hydrants, valves and storage reservoirs looms. All of these components of the majority of the CWS are reaching the end of their design life. A significant portion of the state’s primary distribution system is nearing 100 years old.” (Source: American Society of Civil Engineers 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, State Facts).

Many beach and river closings are due to aging and antiquated wastewater and stormwater systems that fail or can’t handle capacity.

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A major source of bacterial contamination at Michigan beaches is municipal sanitary sewer systems that leak or overflow raw sewage because they “contain cracks, obstructions, stormwater connections, or that are undersized with sewers and pumps too small to carry all the sewage.”

In 2015, state and local officials monitored water quality at 387 Michigan beaches in 54 counties. Some 98, or 25.1 percent, of the beaches had “exceedances:” instances where water samples with E. coli exceeded the daily allowable mean of 300 E. coli per 100 ml. On average over the past 10 years, Michigan has averaged exceedances at 94 beaches per year.

In 2015, 31 beaches on Michigan inland lakes and rivers reported 70 “exceedances” (excessive E. coli levels) that resulted in 40 closures and/or advisories.

(Source: Michigan DEQ “Michigan Beach Monitoring Year 2015 Annual Report,” May 2016)