Kent County initiative aims to keep septic sewage from burbling into waterways, drinking water supplies
About one million gallons of untreated waste from toilets and drains are leaking from septic systems each day in Kent County, fouling streams, endangering human health and driving up costs for homeowners and taxpayers, according to a report released in July by Clean Water Fund.
With assistance from the Michigan Environmental Council, the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and numerous local supporters, activists and health experts, Kent County’s Underground Threat/Protecting Families from Failing Septic Systems was unveiled at a press event in the middle of Plaster Creek on July 17. The report calls on Kent County’s elected leaders to protect residents by enacting common-sense septic inspection, treatment and oversight rules.
“With the explosive growth in rural Kent County responsible for a marked increase in the number of septic systems, it’s high time that we ensure a minimum level of maintenance and oversight,” said James Hegarty, an engineer with the consulting firm Prein & Newhof. “For the time being, it continues to be ‘anything goes’ when it comes to raw sewage burbling into creeks, streams and ponds.”
A 2002 report from the Annis Water Resources Institute at Grand Valley State University quantified the estimated million-gallons-per-day of leaking septic in Kent County—enough sewage to fill 25,000 bathtubs.
That sewage inevitably ends up contributing to bacteria and viruses in local streams that result in health warnings. It can also leach heavy metals and other toxics into the water, accelerating algae blooms that lead to degraded water quality.
Milt Rowher, president of the Frey Foundation said, “I’ve yet to meet anyone from West Michigan who doesn’t view our lakes and streams as a huge asset. The possibility that our growing use of septic systems and inadequate maintenance of those systems is damaging water quality is a very unpleasant prospect. This report gives us a lot to think about.”
Despite the well-documented danger, Kent County Commissioners did not act when presented with a report in 2002.
Staffers from Clean Water Fund and WMEAC said in October that intensive discussions were continuing with Kent County Commissioners and others in regard to adopting more protective septic standards.
“It’s sadly ironic that urban residents on sewer systems send their waste to a wastewater treatment plant. But those on septic systems send their waste into the ground, with virtually no rules to protect nearby waterways,” said Kym Spring, former Organizer for Clean Water Fund who led the press event in July. “Why is some sewage sent to a high-tech plant, but septic system sewage remains virtually unregulated?”
For more information, go to http://www.cleanwateraction.org/mi/cleankentcounty.html.