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Invasive algae forms monstrous mats of muck along Lake Saint Clair

Posted at 5:51 PM, Oct 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-11 18:47:14-04

HARRISON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WXYZ) — In Florida, it is well-known for killing native plants and turning lakes and waterways into mucky messes. Now, it is in Lake Saint Clair.

Michael Skupin first noticed it in 2020. At the time water surrounded his condo association’s docks, but he could see a small amount of mucky algae. He took a picture. He didn’t imagine what would happen in less than two years.

“I guarantee you, if I put a shovel in there now you will gag,” said Skupin.

As he talks he points to the area around the neighborhood’s now unusable docks. Where there used to be 11 feet of water in spots, there is instead a floating mat of thick muck. He says people have walked on it in spots, but if you take one wrong step it is like quicksand. It is a nightmarish blockade to the water people who live here love.

“This condo, buying it here was a bucket list for my wife. To live here. She died last year,” said Skupin.

Now he’s fighting to bring back the beauty that was here. One contractor quoted his small condo association more than $700,000 to do the job of removing the muck. The problem, he was warned, is the algae that formed the muck is growing in Lake Saint Clair.

If you travel along the lakeshore you will see renovations at the Ballard Boat Launch in Harrison Township. The state had to shut it down for renovations after the algae left it unusable repeatedly.

Numerous homes are losing access to the water. Football field-sized stretches of muck are in the way.

“Whether it is toxic or not, I don’t think it is but we need to understand it better,” said Candice Miller, Macomb County Public Works Commissioner.

Miller said she has asked the Army Corps of Engineers to study the problem, and it agreed. She says she wants to know whether the algae could impact our drinking water. She is also concerned that storm sewer overflows from Wayne, Macomb, and Oakland County may be feeding the algae.

Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash says Oakland County treats its sewage overflows with chlorine. He points out that climate scientists have warned that climate change will lead to an increase in harmful algal blooms, in more locations.

“It's invasive. It didn’t use to be here,” said Nash.

The Army Corps of Engineers study is giving property owners hope there might someday be help.

“I know we can’t afford it,” said Skupin of his neighborhood’s ability to remove the muck. “And this is a state issue. This is a government issue. What is causing the Lyngbya?”