.

Funding Woes May Sink Drinking Water Pollution-Monitoring System

The fund for the high-tech system that checks for contaminants in drinking water supplied to southeast Michigan is near depletion.

Several times a year, a state-of-the-art water monitoring system meandering through Macomb, Wayne and St. Clair counties triggers a real-time alert.

Today, that system is in dire straits due to necessary maintenance costs at each monitoring site and a projected depletion of the monitoring fund by December, according to Macomb County officials.

The high-tech monitoring system frequently checks for toxins flowing from Lake Huron into St. Clair River, Lake St. Clair, the Detroit River and Lake Erie. Basically, they're the bodies that drinking water is pumped from for virtually every household and business in the region.

Warnings can take place as far upstream as Port Huron, but its signal ripples through Mount Clemens, and Grosse Pointe Farms, reaching as far as Wyandotte.

The trigger for the caution among water treatment plants in area communities? Hazardous contaminants, oftentimes from factories in Canada, found in the water intended for roughly 3 million metro Detroiters.

Macomb County Finance Committee Chair Don Brown said keeping the system above water would mean imposing fees estimated to cost each household an extra 50 cents a year.

"It's just the fundamental role of the government to protect the public health," Brown said Wednesday. "It doesn't make sense not to do it."

Keeping the system afloat

Brown credits Congresswoman Candice Miller (R-10th District) and other local officials for spearheading the water monitoring system and championing it at state and federal levels.

"This is the best drinking monitoring system in the United States," he said of the $3.4-million system developed in 2006.

County officials say it's currently operating at “bare minimum” with $210,000 annually and there's no money for equipment replacement, data analysis or technical consultants. A fully operating system would cost between $500,000 and $1 million a year. That would translate to 50 cents a year for water customers in the tri-county area, he said.

Macomb County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Kathy Vosburg of Chesterfield Township said, "It's been my experience out there talking to people, they're willing to pay for it."

Implementing the fee, however, isn't so simple, she said.

Doing so requires regional support from several communities with water treatment plants and forming a transparent entity to oversee the system on a long-term basis.

"It's been a frustrating project," Vosburg said of effort to find solutions among various municipalities and water plants, including the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. Previous attempts for the cost-sharing based on volume usage have been met with resistance.

Still, she remains optimistic the goal will be reached by December.

Meanwhile, a regional summit on the issue is slated to happen. A specific date has not been set but Brown said he would like it to happen before summer.

History shows pollution monitoring necessary

More than 700 chemical spills along the St. Clair and Detroit River corridor have been documented since 1986 on the U.S. and Canadian sides of the waterway, according to water pollution reports.

Each site collects water heading from Sarnia’s “Chemical Valley,” where multiple petrochemical plants are suspected of infesting waters with potentially harmful toxins for years.

Brown said there has been progress since the monitoring system's implementation because the companies have better regulation.

"These chemical companies know there's a policeman watching the water," he said.

Public health worries

In a recent report by The Detroit News, Marine City—the location of one of the water monitoring sites in St. Clair County—has seen several cases of a rare kidney cancer called Wilms' tumor in children.

"Since 2007, five cases of the disease have been reported in the city of roughly 5,000— the most recent being identified in a 6-month-old girl in March," according to the May 4 article.

Marine City is home to industrial plants and is down the St. Clair River from Sarnia.

The initial query led public health officials to dismiss environmental causes of the disease, but with the most recent case of Wilms', they've reopened their investigation.

Monitor sites along waterways

The following detection zones are where water is frequently checked for pollution:

  • Port Huron
  • New Baltimore
  • East China
  • Marysville
  • Marine City
  • Ira Township
  • Algonac
  • Mount Clemens
  • St. Clair
  • Grosse Pointe Farms
  • Detroit
  • Wyandotte

If there's a sample that shows contaminants, each site is immediately notified. According to a study initiated by the Macomb/St. Clair Inter-County Watershed Management Advisory Group, some of the pollutants or reasons for alerts are:

  • Hydrocarbons: gasoline, diesel fuel and lubricating oils.
  • Organic compounds, such as benzene, xylene, vinyl chloride and total organic carbon.
  • Physical properties, such as pH, turbidity, chlorophyll, temperature, dissolved solids and more.
Anna Hardy Smith May 14, 2011 at 06:14 PM
$.50 per person isn't even minimal - it's miniscule. I'll happily throw in more to not worry even more about what my children are ingesting.
ShelbyReader May 14, 2011 at 07:50 PM
Why isn't the cost of this system included in the calculation of the water rates we are charged on our quarterly water bills? If you went to a car dealership and purchased a car and they delivered it without tires you would think you were being ripped off. But, when it comes to government everything is an extra add-on. The proper monitoring of our water supply is a core responsiblility of the Detroit Water Department and all the other municipal water departments and they should pick up the costs for this system: asking their customers to pay is essentially billing them for the same service twice.
Matt Guarnieri May 14, 2011 at 10:39 PM
I think adding a .25 fee to each quarterly water bill and creating a clean water escrow fund would be the best idea. The surplus can be held and used if a water safety emergency happens or if the operating cost rise.
P. RAY May 16, 2011 at 03:18 PM
YES YOU HAVE TO PAY THE .50......BUT DO NOT STOP THERE THE COMPANYS THAT CAUSE THIS PROBLEM SHOULD BE FOOTING THE BILL....SO YOU MUST KEEP UP THE FIGHT.......PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO WHAT IS GOING ON IN ROMULUS RIGHT NOW......THEY HAVE BEEN FIGHTING A TOXIC LIQUID WELL IN THEIR TOWN FOR 20YRS AND MILLIONS OF DOLLARS......AND MAY 17 AT7-9 ..THE D.E.Q. AND FEDERAL E.P.A. WILL HAVE A MEETING TO RE OPEN THE HAZARDOUS WASTE WELLS.....OF COURSE THE PEOPLE OF ROMULUS HAVE LITTLE LEFT TO SAY ......BUT MAYBE WE CAN HELP......STAND UP AND BEAT THE DRUMS.......WE ARE AMERICANS THIS IS OUR WATER, EARTH,AIR..AND WE CAN AND MUST STOP THE GOVERNMENT PUPPETS....AND MAKE THOSE WHO CAUSE THE PROBLEM PAY TO CLEAN THEM UP......OR MAYBE TAX THEM????? P.RAY PLYMOUTH MI
Matt Guarnieri May 16, 2011 at 09:39 PM
Good point P. Ray... Maybe a tax to companies the use water from the river, nothing huge but enough to help pay for monitoring. I wonder how much of the monitoring cost would be covered with maybe a 100.00 dollar per year fee to companies that use dangerous chemicals in their processing? Companies should have a stake and interest in making sure the water source is kept clean.

Boards

More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »