Growing Number of Beach Closings in Michigan

OKEMOS – Beach closings continue to be a fact of life in Michigan, as a result of high bacteria levels caused by many factors, including combined storm and sanitary sewer overflows.

The number of monitored public beaches with advisories or closings continued to increase each year between 2005-2010, according to the most recent formal report available on the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) website.

So far in 2012, there have been 96 beach advisories or closings. That is up from 2011, when during the same time period the number was 88.

This trend points out the increasing need to fix our aging underground water and sewer systems, according to the, Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association
(MITA), and the importance of state revolving fund legislation, which is moving through the state Legislature.

“House Bills 5673-76 and Senate Bills 1155-1158 provide lower cost and easier access to funding for municipalities so they can obtain bonds and receive grants to pay for the cost of evaluating and separating their combined storm and sanitary sewer systems,” said Mike Nystrom, executive vice president of MITA. “This legislation supports the $1 billion sewer bond program, approved by voters in 2002.”

According to the most recent Michigan Beach Monitoring Annual Report on the MDEQ website, the number and percentage of beaches that exceeded water quality standards rose between 2005 and 2010. Local health departments issue advisories or beach closings, and the state keeps track of them on the Michigan Beachguard website
( High bacteria levels are the reason for most closures, and can result from a variety of causes, including combined storm water and sanitary sewer systems which cause raw sewage to flow into the state’s lakes, rivers and streams.

“Our aging underground infrastructure is a hidden menace,” Nystrom said. “It is easy to see potholes on the roads that need to be fixed; or concrete falling from bridges. But the problems with our underground systems seldom come to light, and the costs to repair them grow every year that municipalities have to put off to tomorrow what needs to be done today.”

MITA continues to be a leader in addressing the problem of combined sewer overflows at the legislative level, most notably in 2002 with the passage of the Clean Water Michigan legislation. In the summer of 2010, recommendations arose from the State Revolving Fund Advisory Group, established by legislation, which MITA supported, that would determine how the state funds long-term water and sewer system needs in Michigan.