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What will stop the monstrous muck-making algae in Lake Saint Clair?

Macomb County says one project is a step in the right direction
Posted at 6:29 PM, Oct 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-17 18:29:09-04

HARRISON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WXYZ) — 7 Action News showed you last week how an invasive muck-producing algae is rapidly growing in Lake Saint Clair. Where there used to be water, in some locations, there are football field patches of muck.

RELATED: Invasive algae forms monstrous mats of muck along Lake Saint Clair

Experts say one of the big problems is in many locations in metro Detroit your toilet water and stormwater runs into the same pipes. When it storms, our sewer systems sometimes overflow into our waterways, feeding the algae.

Digging into state records there were 383 overflow events that discharged a total of 46.74 billion gallons in 2021 statewide. Of that, 37.96 billion gallons were treated discharge from retention treatment basins that hold combined sewer overflows in such events and 8.8 billion gallons are raw sewage. This means that when there is an overflow, communities try to contain it in a retention basin when they can, where it is chemically treated before discharge.

“Listen it is 2022. This is our drinking water and we are discharging combined sewage overflows into Lake Saint Clair? We have to stop doing this,” said Candice S. Miller, Macomb County Public Works Commissioner.

Miller announced the beginning of a project that aims to decrease overflows into Lake Saint Clair. Right now crews are working at Beaconsfield and Oak Avenue near I-94 in Eastpointe on a $9.9 million American Rescue Plan Act project. The plan is to install an inflatable dam that can store 3.5 million gallons in a storm until the system can handle flow to the water treatment plant. It's in a sewer interceptor drain that handles storm and sewer water.

“This is drinking water for 40% of Michigan’s residents,” said Michael Skupin.

Skupin says he hopes the project also slows rapidly growing invasive algae called Lyngbya that creates masses of muck. He first spotted a small patch of muck in 2020. The thick muck now surrounds his condo’s docks and beyond, making all use of boats impossible and blocking access to the lake.

“This is monumental. It is in the lake bed. It is out in the marina,” said Skupin.

“We are seeing differences because of our changing climate. We are seeing our water stay warmer longer,” said Liesl Clark, the Michigan Department of Great Lakes & Energy Director of what is causing the algae to grow.

She says the combination of warmer weather, sewer overflows, and fertilizer runoff creates an algae-friendly environment.

“We still do discharge the food that the algae likes to eat,” she said.

It is a problem that is predicted to get worse as climate change brings stronger storms that dump more water than our infrastructure can handle.

“Storms are getting bigger and the water is coming faster and we don’t have enough infrastructure under the ground to get the water where it needs to go,” said Clark.

She says the problem cannot be quickly fixed, is a multi-billion dollar challenge, but people should know the state is funding numerous projects that are steps in the right direction.

Skupin says people need to see the muck that is rapidly taking over shorelines in front of numerous homes along Lake Saint Clair and know, this is just one of many consequences that we will continue to face if we don’t do even more to improve our infrastructure and protect our water from contamination.

“Now we need help. We need our congressmen and senators to come out and help this situation,” said Skupin.