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.


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, threatening clean drinking water in Michigan. The American Society of Civil Engineers of Michigan recently gave Michigan’s drinking water a “D” grade on its 2018 Report Card for Michigan’s Infrastructure.

ASCE-MI also estimates that system owners in Michigan are underfunding system improvements for Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) compliance between $284 to $563 million/year.


“Supply systems including transmission and distribution (T&D) pipelines account for most of Michigan’s built water infrastructure. Significant portions are well over 50 years old and beyond design service life, difficult to inspect/maintain, and located in corridors with other utilities/roadways. Within Detroit CWS alone, approximately 80% of its T&D was installed prior to 1940. Per the 2016 Michigan Infrastructure report, between 10 and 50 percent of the treated water is lost through leakage.” (Source: American Society of Civil Engineers 2018 Report Card for Michigan’s Infrastructure).

Many beach and river closings, such as those involved with e. coli levels in Lake Michigan, are due to aging and antiquated wastewater and stormwater systems that fail or can’t handle capacity.


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 2017, state and local officials monitored water quality at 377 Michigan beaches in 55 counties. Some 73, or 19.3 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 92 beaches per year.


In 2017, 30 beaches on Michigan inland lakes and rivers reported 49 “exceedances” (excessive E. coli levels) that resulted in 26 closures and/or advisories.

(Source: Michigan DEQ “Michigan Beach Monitoring Year 2017 Annual Report,” February 2018)