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The Clinton River Watershed an Example of Involvement


    A watershed is an area of land that drains all the streams and rainfall to a common outlet such as the outflow of a reservoir, mouth of a bay, or any point along a stream channel. The word watershed is sometimes used interchangeably with drainage basin. Ridges and hills that separate two watersheds are called the drainage divide. The watershed consists of surface water--lakes, streams, reservoirs, and wetlands--and all the underlying ground water. Larger watersheds contain many smaller watersheds. It all depends on the outflow point; all of the land that drains water to the outflow point is the watershed for that outflow location. Watersheds are important because the stream flow and the water quality of a river are affected by things, human-induced or not, happening in the land area "above" the river-outflow point

   According to the Clinton River Watershed Council, the Clinton River watershed is 760 square miles .  The main branch extends for 80 miles from northwest Oakland County to the mouth of Lake St. Clair.  There are 600 miles of stream including the major tributaries.  Many of the lakes of   Oakland County are "wide spots" in the Clinton River. Glaciers left behind two distinct land forms. Glacial Lake St. Clair extends far inland so the eastern half of watershed (Macomb County) is very flat, with clay lake plain soils and poor drainage. The western half is glacial moraines, hilly sand, gravel soils, and well defined stream drainage. Settlement divides the watershed into thirds. The southern part extending outward from 8 Mile Road (the city limits of Detroit) is urban; the middle third along the Main Branch is rapidly developing suburbs and the northern third is rural. Prime agricultural lands are along the Main Branch, draining north Macomb County. The Middle Branch shows rural to intense development as   it moves from the north to the south There is extensive industry in Pontiac   and the southern watershed. Over one million people live in the watershed in 26 townships, 25 cities, and 9 villages located in four counties. Water quality in the Clinton River improved with construction of new treatment plants. Since 1960, 7 out of 21 municipal plants remain on the river while other municipals joined the regional collection with treatment in Detroit.     Most industries no longer discharge into municipal sewers and are controlled   through the Industrial Pretreatment Program.  Local governments are controlling combined sewer overflows (CSOs) by separating old combined sewers   (Pontiac and Mt. Clemens) or constructing retention basins to provide primary treatment oil skimming, setting and chlorinating of overflows (Southern    Oakland Co. and Mt. Clemens).  Still CSO annual loading to the Red Run and Clinton River is extensive. The Warren Treatment Plant, with its tertiary   treatment, aerates and dilutes the twelve town discharges, but the assault on Lake St. Clair is major.

      The lower watershed, below the Red Run which drains urban south Oakland and  Macomb Counties, is listed as one of the 43 Areas of Concerns through out the Great Lakes.  The sediments are contaminated with heavy metals (mercury, lead) PCBs, oil, and grease. Oil spills and discharges are a problem along with  degrade biota, low dissolved oxygen (DO) heavy sedimentation, excessive  nutrients, pesticides, and fecal coliforms. Suspected sources are:  illegal connections of sewage and industrial wastes to storm drains, nonpoint urban runoff, agricultural runoff, combined sewer  overflows, and contaminated groundwater.  There are over 200 listed sites of  contamination in the watershed, 27 on the National Superfund list and 4 on the National Priority List (NPL). Flooding has been a severe problem along the river in the lower watershed and in Pontiac, with sewers backing up and basements being flooded. The Corps of Engineers constructed 2 major flood control projects in the 1950's the cut-off canal (spillway) and Red Run Drain.  In 1968, the rain revealed that    the projects design capacities were exceeded by the increasing runoff from continuing urban development.  The cost of federal channelization exceeded the benefits in reduced flood damage at that time.  Continued development has increased the runoff resulting in property damage and degradation of Lake St. Clair shorelines. In the upper watershed, there are extensive wetlands playing a key role in flood regulating programs and pressures of new urban development.  Intensive shoreline development and recreational use of inland lakes, plus lake-shed drainage impacts has caused concern about water quality and private versus    public interests in lake use in watershed.  Septic system concerns persist on some lakes and groundwater impacts are evident.  River flow plays a critical role in the water quality  The drought flows, at which pollution   control measures are aimed, only 15% is groundwater and tributary flows, 65% is from 7 municipal treatment plants (water origin is Great Lakes through   Detroit water supply system), 21% is industrial (mostly non-contact cooling    water). . The Clinton is typical of an urban river when it is raining because of development in the watershed, there are much higher flows than for a natural watershed. When it is not raining, there are reduced base flows.  High flows   cause severe bank erosion. Uncontrolled erosion from construction sites are a problem.  Sedimentation to the river is a major insult.  . Topography is critical.  As the river flows out of Oakland Co. onto flat lands, the flow slows, sediment drops out and there is little re-aeration. The watershed soil types account for naturally high total dissolved solids    which exceed standards for agricultural irrigation.  Clay soils have little infiltration and high runoff (nonpoint source pollution).  Nonpoint source    pollution is a dominant influence on river water quality. Institutional problems have been a major impediment to effective river management. There are too many agencies and programs at federal/state/local levels to have effective action.  A river management district with assured funding and requisite authorities is being implemented.

      There are many activities and opportunities to improve the Clinton River and the Lake  St. Clair Great Lakes watersheds:  Remedial Action Plans (RAP) update for the Clinton River was completed 1995 with 84 recommended  actions for river improvements. River clean up (annual Spring and Fall)   Local governments, supported by local citizens and developers play key roles in   wetlands use and protection. Local governments undertake storm water management planning and implementation.   Urban drains often have illegal connections.  Down spout ordinances have been  passed and septic fields are being tested with dye patterns.

      Groundwater Education in Michigan (GEM) projects offer local governments,  citizens, teachers, and students opportunities for groundwater protection.   Citizens can participate in Clinton River Watershed Council and area Water  Quality Board and Environmental Policy Advisory Council which strengthen public  education and cooperation between local government and institutions.  Support is needed for adequate funding for water programs through water and sewer rates  paid.

      The Macomb Daily newspaper has published since 1995 reports on the Clinton  River, Lake St. Clair Watershed in their Lake Watch series.  Bob Diehl, editor  initiated the series with a call to action by readers.  He stated: The health of Lake St. Clair is vital to Macomb County and the lake impacts though  southeastern Michigan. It is the prime shaper of the aesthetic, recreation, and economic climate In 1995, high coliform counts closed beaches and massive reefs of seaweed snarled boats. The reports of the lake's status and government and  citizen efforts to identify and solve problems has continued under the Lake Watch story logo.  Macomb Co. Health Department, Huron, Clinton Metropolitan Authority  and Department of Natural Resources (now Department of Environmental Quality)  along with Macomb Daily editor, publisher, and Drain Commissioner, Tom Welch,  founded the Lake St. Clair Water Quality Committee to study short term and long  term solutions.

      Problems have been addressed and publicized widely.  It is evident that the blame includes individual residents and local, state, and federal governments.  Zebra  mussels' eating habits cleaned the waters which permitted sunlight to stimulate  seaweed growth. These aquatic plants inhibited the natural cleaning flow of  water, trapping pollution against shorelines.  Sources of pollution include old  septic tanks and antiquated wastewater systems of the Clinton River Watershed  (1995).  The pollution of 1994 which resulted in closing Metro Beach due to high coliform counts, was due to the drain marvel of the 70's, the Twelve Town Drain  above Red Run.  The Chapaton and Martin retention basins and Mt. Clemens sewage system and some industries also contributed to the Lake Pollution of 1994.  By  1996, lake beaches were being regularly closed due to coliform counts.  The  public and water related businesses were very concerned.  The beach closings in  Michigan were 83 in 1996 and 236 in 1997. Macomb County led the state in beach closings.  In 1997 Metro Beach was closed 47 days from May to August and Memorial Park Beach closed 37 days from June to August. Four Bears Water Park, North Branch was closed 2 days in July. Blossom Health Park Beach was closed 5 days in August.

      Lake St. Clair has had beach testing by the Public Health Department for 30  years.  Other counties have looked at Macomb County and what is happening.  Only 11 of 41 Michigan counties that border the Great Lakes have routine monitoring. Most of Michigan beach closings in recent years are attributed to sewage system overflows, storm water runoff, or air pollution deposition.

      Memorial Park Beach had a $400,000 beach improvement project, but within one week of opening, the beach had to be closed twice (June 98).  Metro Beach is planning a $500,000 dredging to remove a sandbar that is increasing stagnation and  coliform counts of the water.  Residents have been warned not to dump grass  clippings in drains or water systems.  They face heavy fines for dumping grass  clippings which result in lake pollution that closed beaches.  Later in June 98, an apartment complex illegally dumping raw sewage into the Hetchler Drain at  Memorial Park, was tied to beach closings.  The drain was heavily chlorinated and flushed to remove coliform laden sediment in the drain.  This revelation of the drain located right under Memorial Park has questioned the assumption that  sewage basins, seaweed, sediment, wave action, or zebra mussels as being the  main problem with Lake St. Clair.  Over the past 5 years, no one in the various  committees and commissions ever mentioned where the Hetchler Drain was located! The drain was not tested until April 1998.  Now there is a question concerning  the 18 other major drains located along the lakeshore.  The health department is  now looking at all drains along the lakeshore that may have illegal hookups.  It is estimated that Harrison Township has up to 500 faulty residential septic tanks.  These drains in Harrison Township could be polluting Metro Beach.

      Dozens of discussions have taken place since the first beach closing in 1994.   Many theories have been offered for the beach and lake pollution.  Experts from  Canada and all over Michigan have investigated data about winds, currents, and the lake's ecosystem.  Pollution sources from Oakland Co. to Port Huron have been studied.  Perhaps the answer is a fairly simple problem right in the backyard of the lake.  This illustrates how complex ecosystems are and how difficult it is to determine which source of many are the problem.  With so many sources being  checked out and corrected, the end result hopefully will be a clean, safe lake which is the major natural resource of Macomb County. Drinking water sources for Metropolitan Detroit are the intake in Southern Lake Huron above Port Huron and the Belle Isle intake in the Detroit River at the  southern end of Lake St. Clair.  The concern of the Blue Ribbon Commission on the Lake St. Clair was that there was no monitoring of the water intakes that supply water to millions of people despite the pollution problems that have plagued Lake St. Clair since 1994.  Environmentalists have warned that of the 5 billion  gallons of water per minute that flows from the St. Clair River into Lake St.  Clair, 1 billion gallons are waste water from industrial and sewage facilities  in the U.S. and Canada.  A water monitoring system that uses blue gills will be  hooked to a computer as a warning system to guard against drinking water  pollution.  The fish are a 24 hour warning system.  Computers will monitor 32  fish in their tanks for respiration rates and vital signs.  The military has used such systems since 1987.  The first station is at Walpole Island and seven to ten stations will stand on the river and lake.  The Army is paying for the project and hopes to use the research to deploy bluegill monitoring stations in the  battle field.  Carl Freeman of Wayne State and Robbin Hough of Oakland University state that a permanent  network of monitors is essential to safeguard the drinking water sources.

      The hot spots of the Great Lakes that are major pollution sites are areas of  harbors, bays, and where there are circular patterns of currents.  Millers Case Study of the Great Lakes identify on the map locations of water  quality problems.  These sites correspond to the fish advisory for consumption  of Great Lakes Fishes.  One can obtain the species, size, and location  information from health clinics or fishing license agents.  The Clinton, St.  Clair, and Detroit Rivers, due to contaminated sediments, are areas of concern  due to biomagnification of toxins in the fishes.

      Waste water treatment with biological, chemical, and physical processes can be developed in natural wetlands, constructed wetlands and high tech treatment  plants.

MCC students study land activities and water quality monitoring in the Clinton  River watershed and the watershed of Akumal, Mexico.  These field studies consist of chemical and biological testing such as: coliform counts,  nitrates, phosphates, salinity, dissolved oxygen, pH, and temperature

      Fresh water invertebrates of the sediment, phytoplankton, and zooplankton are  studied to categorize the water quality.  Observations of top of the food chain  such as, fish eating birds (blue heron) and endangered species (sea turtles)  that are dependent on habitat preservation are recorded by students.   Over-fishing of predator fishes have disrupted coral ecology.  Waste and sewage  have contaminated groundwater in Akumal and the Yucatan Peninsula which result  in pollution of coral reefs.  Constructed wetlands and composing toilets have  reduced shoreline pollution levels. (Link Mayan Project and Water Monitoring)  Studies of watersheds really illustrate the connections between land, air, water, and man's activities.  The Lake St. Clair Study illustrates the complexity of  watersheds and that pollution prevention is economically better in the long term than dealing with pollution clean up.

      The passage of the lake bills  by Michigan Legislature gives sewage treatment plants a stricter procedure for reporting untreated sewage discharges and homeowners a year and businesses 5 years to remove storm water connections  from sanitary sewer systems.  This is an example where politics took over  an  area that probably should have been regulated by state environmental agencies.   The state agencies did not have enough empowerment to regulate the lake problem. Only when public opinion supported the lake studies, did the legislature act.   Some citizens have worked at raising the issues of the lake and rivers for more  than 30 years.  Today students have action plans and studies that range from 4th graders to college students and church members.