Macomb County’s premier beach on Lake St. Clair closed on Monday due to pollution problems but, according to Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller, the culprit was not her department. It was far upstream, in the Oakland County sewer system.

Miller reported today that the discharge of up to 9 million gallons of sewage into Lake St. Clair following this week’s thunderstorms was averted by recent improvements made at the Chapaton retention basin in St. Clair Shores. (The gates where Chapaton discharges its overflows is pictured above.)

“Conversely,” a Miller news release said, “at the George W. Kuhn Retention Basin in Madison Heights serving part of southeastern Oakland County …  sewer overflows (were discharged) on Monday. Final reports are expected later this week. When that basin discharges, the sewage pours into the Red Run Drain, which flows through Warren before reaching the Clinton River and ultimately flowing into Lake St. Clair.”

That flow of bacteria-laden water enters the lake very near the swimming area at Lake St. Clair Metropark (formerly Metro Beach). The Metropark beach was closed after E. coli levels in the water spiked at nearly 30 times the safe level for human contact. The beach reopened on Tuesday.

In Macomb County, more than 1.5 inches of rain fell between late Sunday and before dawn Monday in the drainage district that handles stormwater and sewage from most of St. Clair Shores and all of Eastpointe. No two rain events are alike, according to the Public Works Office, but thunderstorms with that much precipitation over a period of approximately six hours would in the past have required discharges of millions of gallons of chemically treated sewer water.

“Part of our mission at the Macomb County Public Works Office is to eliminate or drastically reduce (combined sewer overflows), and our operational changes worked wonderfully,” Miller said. “The proof is in the pipes.”

Close monitoring by public works staff of the wastewater flow largely from Roseville into the Martin Retention Treatment Basin in St. Clair Shores enabled the crew to avoid discharges from there as well.

In recent years, the Chapaton basin has dumped up to 800 million gallons of sewage annually into Lake St. Clair. Those spills are partially treated with chlorine before being discharged, but they still contribute to the water pollution problems that plague the lakeshore each summer, forcing dozens of daily beach closings in the area.

In turn, county officials have sparred with neighboring Oakland County for more than two decades over the massive overflows at the Kuhn retention basin (formerly known as Twelve Towns) that dump directly into Macomb at Dequindre Road.

During the drenching rainstorms of August 2014 that led to widespread flooding, Oakland officials eventually conceded that the Kuhn facility dumped 2 billion gallons of sewer water into Lake St. Clair in a matter of just several days.