ISHPEMING — Deer Lake was on the EPA’s environmental Areas of Concern list from 1987 until two weeks ago.
An Ishpeming man got to swim in the lake this summer for the first time in an entire lifetime of living near it.
“I never, ever thought it would ever get cleaned up like it is,” Deer Lake Public Advisory Committee vice-chair Pete Nault said. “It was a mess, and it was just something that you would have to have witnessed to believe the difference between then and now.”
Algae blooms were so thick that the water appeared to be green, and it was contaminated by mercury, leaching into the water through an abandoned mine. Besides mercury, contamination from raw sewage was also an issue for many years before the city’s current wastewater treatment plant was built.
The EPA’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has provided $8 million in grants since 2010 to pay for the Partridge Creek Project in Ishpeming. The project diverted water from the underground mine to the surface to bypass the mercury source and redirected it into another creek.
“We’re turning the corner on Great Lakes restoration with the de-listing of the Deer Lake Area of Concern, the first (de-listing) on Lake Superior,” EPA Region 5 administrator Susan Hedman said. “After 25 years where not much happened, we were able to de-list three Areas of Concern and complete all of the work required to de-list three more.”
The Michigan DEQ, the DNR and Ishpeming city officials and other residents have played important roles in the cleanup work and the de-listing.
“There’s been a lot of work done by a lot of people involved to get us from where we were back then to where we are right now,” Nault said. “De-listed as an Area of Concern, of course, was our ultimate goal, and it’s happened, and hopefully, good things will continue to happen.”
One of those good things would be allowing people to keep fish that they catch in Deer Lake. The DNR still considers it a catch-and-release fishing location.