Clean Water Michigan Study Calls for Sewer System Funding

The state’s aging and inadequate sewage and storm water systems need massive overhauling and a major investment is necessary to make it happen, according to a new study released on Oct. 11.

The 47-page study, prepared by Public Sector Consultants and Environmental Consulting & Technology, Inc., for Clean Water Michigan, found that $5.8 billion over the next two decades will be needed to repair and replace sewage delivery and treatment systems, in addition to failing septic systems. Clean Water Michigan is an advisory group of nine major state health, environmental and industry groups.

"Without the investment, sewer maintenance costs will continue to rise and system failures along with ground and surface water contamination will be inevitable," said Don Stypula, manager of environmental affairs, Michigan Municipal League. "It is essential for decision makers at the state and federal level to carefully review this entire report and act expeditiously on its recommendations."

Michigan’s sewer and septic problems have grown because many communities, faced with limited financial resources, have deferred investments needed to maintain, rehabilitate and replace older wastewater infrastructure in order to afford the cost of correcting combined sewer overflow (CSO) and separate sanitary sewer overflow (SSO) problems, according to the study. Problems with aging septic systems also have risen sharply over the years.

"A properly sited, designed and maintained septic system can be a viable option to meet long term sewage disposal needs," said Dianne B. McCormick, director of environmental health, Livingston County Health Department and past president of the Michigan Association of Local Environmental Administrators. "The key, however, is to educate homeowners of their responsibilities for proper operation and maintenance so that groundwater and surface water is not adversely impacted."

The study recommends legislation to require inspection and certification of septic systems upon transfer of ownership and a major education effort to inform owners of septic systems about best management practices to ensure proper function. In addition, the study’s recommendations include

* State and federal capitalization of the Michigan state revolving fund needs to be increased by $125 million a year to support low-interest loans to municipalities of at least $350 million a year for wastewater infrastructure improvements over the next five years.
* Michigan should strongly advocate establishment of a national trust account that would set aside a secure source of federal funds to finance future wastewater infrastructure needs.

Clean Water Michigan was formed in 1989 to address the issue of combined storm and sanitary sewer overflow. At that time, the group highlighted the problem of communities discharging billions of gallons of untreated sewage and industrial wastewater each year into the state’s waterways. Appropriate legislation was passed and funding was found to provide separate sewer systems and construct retention and treatment basins.

"We are faced with an even greater crisis now that demands action in order to protect our state’s most important natural resource," said Bob Patzer, executive director of AUC -- Michigan’s Heavy Construction Association. "The Clean Water Michigan study highlights the crisis and points us in the direction of a solution."

The Clean Water Michigan advisory group includes the Michigan Association for Public Health, Livingston County Health Department, Michigan Townships Association, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, Michigan Association of County Drain Commissioners, Southeastern Michigan Council of Governments, Michigan Environmental Council, Michigan Municipal League and AUC -- Michigan’s Heavy Construction Association. AUC stands for Associated Underground Contractors.

The Clean Water Michigan study, "Managing the Cost of Clean Water, An Assessment of Michigan’s Sewer Infrastructure Needs," is available on-line at www.pscinc.com.

SOURCE: Public Sector Consultants, Inc.

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