Drain Inspections To Benefit Michigan Great Lakes
The health and well-being of Lake St. Clair is the focus of a new project being launched by the Macomb County Office of Public Works in summer 2017. The office will be conducting a series of tests on three major storm water drains in St. Clair Shores to seek out and eliminate any pollution sources in those drains.
“This is a project that will define this generation’s legacy in regard to our Great Lakes. Are we going to talk about protecting them, or are we actually going to do something about it?” said Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice S. Miller. “We choose to do something about it.”
Utilizing a series of state grants and existing funding at the Public Works Office, three drains – the Stephens Relief, the Martin Relief and the Hetchler Drain – all will be tested for e.coli and related evidence of illegal sanitary sewer connections in the drains. All three drains empty out directly into Lake St. Clair in St. Clair Shores without any screening or treatment.
Total cost of the inspection work is $1.6 million. Of that, $1.4 million will come from state grants and the remainder will be paid for the by the Public Works Office, using existing drain funds.
Preliminary work on the project has already paid dividends. In February, Public Works discovered that the sanitary sewer connection from a small apartment complex on the Stephens Relief Drain in Eastpointe had been dumping its sewage into the storm system since sometime in the 1980s – at an estimated 225,000 gallons of raw sewage per year. That connection has since been fixed through a partnership effort between the city and the Public Works Office.
The three drains in St. Clair Shores are designed to carry storm water – run-off after a rain or melting snow – from Roseville, Eastpointe and the Shores out to the lake. The drains are underground pipes, 11-foot in diameter by the time they reach the lake. Over the decades, for a variety of reasons, it is believed that household sanitary sewers or possibly even sewer lines from business and industry have been tied in to the storm drains, rather than fed into the sanitary system which directs sewage away for treatment.
“This testing project will accomplish two goals,” Miller said. “Number one, if we find a problem, we are going to fix it. Number two, if we find that there are no problems in one of these particular lines, then we can at least put that question to rest and move on to find other areas of concern.”
Miller said all three of the communities impacted by the testing are eager for the project to begin.
“Maintaining a healthy Lake St. Clair is a project that no single community or government can do on its own,” said St. Clair Shores Mayor Kip Walby. “This really requires a team approach and it is in the best interest of all of our residents that we find projects like this where we can really make a lasting difference.”
Two of the three drains empty into the lake near a public beach – the Stephens Drain is near Blossom Heath and the Hetchler is near Memorial Park. The Martin Relief is between the two others. The testing will determine if discharge from those drains is contributing to periodic spikes in the E. coli bacteria levels in the lake, which causes beach closures.
The inspection involves installing a bulkhead to block the storm water pipe at the lake – the pipe heads are below the lake level – and then pumping out all of the water in the pipe. That will allow inspectors to determine if anything is entering the pipe when or where it shouldn’t be – such as by an upstream toilet flush. To accomplish the test, inspectors need a stretch of dry weather, when there isn’t any storm water in the system.
The inspection of the three systems should be complete by the end of the summer. The rate at which illegal taps can be eliminated depends largely on how many are found.
“This will have a direct, positive impact on Lake St. Clair and all downstream waters immediately,” Miller said. “This is good news for anyone who loves the Great Lakes.”
The three drains were originally constructed in the 1960s.