After several sewage dumps into Lake St. Clair in recent weeks, state officials are scrambling to make their lakefront boating ramps accessible for the Spring by removing mounds of muck, one scoop at a time.
The state Department of Natural Resources employed a large back hoe and a dump truck earlier this week to begin removing smelly debris from the DNR launch site in Harrison Township south of Crocker Boulevard.
“It’s definitely pretty stinky over here,” said Mike Gutow, founder of the environmental group Save Lake St. Clair, in a video posted Tuesday on the SLSC Facebook page. “But this is progress. I hope we can continue this along our shoreline.”
Yet, there is no indication that the state plans to establish dredging equipment all along the lakeshore, which is infested with pockets of a foul combination of mud, seaweed, dead fish and sewer waste, stretching from just south of Metro Beach (Lake St. Clair Metropark) south to the Grosse Pointes.
In addition, many residential neighborhoods that rely on man-made canals for boat access to the lake have seen their canals filled with similar mounds of waste, according to Gutow, a lakefront Harrison Township resident.
In the area south of the Clinton River Spillway, an odorous blob of black muck nearly the length of four football fields has made that section of shoreline off limits to swimmers and boaters.
The crude dredging operation at the DNR site began after the state Department of Environmental Quality reported that 980 million gallons of sewage overflows were released into the lake in the first three months of 2017. That volume is about the equivalent of approximately 80,000 typical backyard swimming pools.
After a week of heavy rains, local sewage systems dumped 366 million gallons of waste into the lake on March 30-31 and April 5-6.
Oakland County’s GWK Drain (formerly the Twelve Towns Drain), located on the Oakland-Macomb border at Dequindre Road, discharged 310 million gallons of sewage into the lake via the Red Run Drain and Clinton River, according to the DEQ.
The Macomb County Public Works Office released waste directly into Lake St. Clair from its two St. Clair Shores sewage facilities – 95 million gallons from the Martin retention facility, and 38 million from the Chapaton pump station.
The city of Warren’s sewer system spewed 146 million gallons of contaminants into the waterways.
Those discharges, a mix of rainwater and sewage, are routinely chlorinated and skimmed before being released into Lake St. Clair or waterways that flow into the lake. For two decades, Oakland and Macomb officials have insisted that the pollution is not responsible for contamination or beach closings on the Lake St. Clair shoreline.
The new Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller promised earlier this year that her goal is to eliminate all county discharges into the lake.
“We need to change the entire equation here: A discharge of any kind into our local waters – the drinking water supply for the entire region — is simply no longer the correct answer. I am committed to making that the priority here in Macomb County,” she said on Jan. 13.
But Miller has not followed up with a detailed plan as her focus remains on repairing the sewer pipe break in Fraser that led to a massive sinkhole along 15 Mile Road days before she took office.