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October 04, 1969 - Image 14

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1969-10-04

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

a
special
report

the

Sundoy

doily

by
howard kohn
and
david spurr

Number 11 -Night Editor: David Spurr

October 5, 1969

H
U
R
N

R

I

V

E

R

All the

bad

jokes you
0'

hear

about the

a

river

are

true.

It's

not

really very funny

!!M !

HIS SUMMER the Gelman Instrument Co. of Ann Arbor began
selling a newly-patented device to monitor impurities rising
from factory smokestacks,
A prosperous shrub-embroidered plant on Wagner Rd., Gelman
is committed to reseaching and publicizing pollution controls.
It has even donated money and personnel to promote the anti-
pollution cause.
"This company was founded ten years ago when I invented a
self-operating air sampler to test air pollution." recounts Charles
Gelman, company president. "And we've gone on from there to
much bigger ideas."
Unfortunately Gelman's anti-pollution scope has missed some-
thing in its own backyard.
Apparently one of the reasons Gelman can afford to spend so
much on research is that it spends so little in treating its own
waste. Gelman has earned an "E" rating on an A-to-E scale from
the Huron River Watershed Council for "inadequate control" of
its discharge.
Gelman's septic tank has been overflowing and forging small
some of the waste can seep into the Huron River, which carries
it manfully to Lake Erie-possibly the world's scummiest lake.
As rivers go, the Huron is not badly polluted. But experts are
worried the river will get a lot worse before someone cleans it up.
"Obviously if we continue what we have been doing, this river
is going to be in one hell of a fix in five or ten years," predicts
Warren Miller, executive secretary of the Watershed Council.
The problem is not that no one cares about the river-but that
even concerned people can't do much to stop pollution.
A primary fault is the understaffed Michigan Water Resources
Commission, which is charged with enforcing anti-pollution laws.
The commission inspects sewage treatment plants and tests
industrial runoff into the rivers before issuing permits-and re-
inspects them as often as it can. But when facilities break down or
factories increase their amount of waste, the commission's hit-and-
miss tactics are less than satisfactory.
Even when it does catch an offender, it sometimes takes years
to correct the situation.
PENINSULAR PAPER CO. of Ypsilanti used to be one of the most
flagrant violators in the Huron Valley. Peninsular would dump
dyes in the river every time it made Christmas cards, changing
the river's color to a luxurient red or green,
Though the dyes were non-toxic and did not harm aquatic
life directly, they did interrupt the river's food chain. A red river
is a tough place in which to hunt food-even for a scavenging carp.
Peninsular also poured wood fibers and other leftovers into
the river.
"We didn't like doing it anymore than people liked us doing
it," says Harrison Quirk, company president. "And there were a
lot of people who didn't like us doing it.
"I think we might have been screwed . . , we might have gone
out of business if Ypsilanti hadn't expanded its treatment plant."
In April of 1968 Peninsular agreed to start funneling its waste
through the treatment plant. In theory this should have eliminated
the Peninsular pollution problem. But it didn't. The treatment
plant digests only 90 per cent of its diet, and things like wood
fibers still get through.
The fibers clog the gills of larvae and thus cut down the food
supply for fish.
Quirk understands the problem and doesn't like the semi-solu-
tions. "But what can we do?" he asks seriously.
Last year Peninsular drilled three new wells for water to use
with its Christmas cards. "The river water was just too dirty to
give us a nice clean white card." Quirk allows. Dirt particles from
the water also roughened the texture
Gelman and Peninsular are two conspicuous examples of the
industries in the 700 square miles of watershed. Actually the water-
shed has remained relatively free of industrial barnacles since the
days of the saw and grist mills.
Only five industries rate an "E" for pollution-DT&I Railroad
Yards of Flat Rock, Ford Motor Co. of Ypsilanti, Longworth Plating
Co. of Chelsea, Michigan Seamless Tube Co. of South Lyon and
Gelman.
Ford is the only significant industrial polluter-and it has
some anti-pollution precautions under construction,
BUT ONCE THE river goes past Ann Arbor, it becomes a mud-
faced voyageur apparently fit for little more than drainage and
disposal.
YvnSianti hastupi inha h pk nn the rivr ,. Q ,.z-xrPDFr- ,

/

"The problem is not that
no one cares about the
river-but that even con-
cerned people can't do
much to stop pollution."

MLFORD
STOGKIRIDGE PINCKNEY {
a Yz 1SOUTN LYON
uvi siio.
AN OR
Y LANTI
HURON RIVER WATERSHED L ' FATR-
ROCK OQ

over the maximum acceptable for swimming. From Barton Pond
downriver, the Huron is off limits for- "body contact."
The exception is Belleville Lake, which sneaks by the law
through a special proviso approving certain artificial bodies of wa-
ter with public bathing facilities for swimming.
Actually Ann Arbor doesn't worry so much about the quality
of the river as much as the volume.
Ann Arbor uses the Huron for 90 per cent of its water supply
in winter and 70 per cent in summer, drawing the rest from wells.
But the rate of water flow can fall as low as 75 cu. ft./sec. in the
summer - compared to an average annual rate of 550 cu. ft./sec.
So Ann Arbor faces a potential water shortage. One remedy
would be a reservoir for use during emergencies. Another answer
would be to tap Detroit's pipeline as an auxilliary source.
IN ANY EVENT, the demand for more water is going to cost mon-
ey. And this poses a dilemma.
At the same time, conservationists are asking Ann Arbor to
upgrade its sewage treatment. Ann Arbor's DPW recently recom-
mended a plan which would remove 98 per cent of the sediments
and 90 per cent of the phosphates (not affecting the nitrates).
The city council ordered a feasibility study of the plan. But
early estimates gauge the cost at $16 million for the first 15 years
- and higher after that.
Eventually the city might have to set priorities between more
water for Ann Arbor and better water for the Huron River.
That painful decision could be averted if the federal govern-
ment would move in with an open checkbook. But that seems un-
likely at this point.
Congress passed the Water Quality Act in 1965. promising a 55
per cent donation to state and local projects aimed at improving
water conditions.
Since then the states have requested $1' billion from the
federal government. However, Congress has only appropriated $214
million, and sources say this figure will be pared down even more.
Michigan alone is asking for more than $300 million but ex-
pects to get only $8-15 million.
Ann Arbor is certain to need outside help if its treatment ex-
pansion is ever to mature beyond the drawing boards. Some aid
could come from the state, which passed a statewide $325 million
conservation bond last fall.
But the $325 million will have to be split many ways. And Ann
Arbor isn't guaranteed any of it yet.
'"HIS IS GOING to be a hell of a mess," explains Prof. Spenser
Havlick of the natural resources school.
"Politicians were promising that the waterways would be clean-
ed up in five years if voters passed the bond issue.
"That wasn't true to begin with. And now that the federal
government isn't going to give much money, we're going to have a
gigantic struggle just keeping pace with the present level of deter-
iroration."
Havlick adds an ironic note. "The Constitution gave control
of the waterways to the states, who should have started regulating
pollution a long time ago. Now the pigeons have come home to
roost."
This bitter assessment has merit. Despite the outrage toward
the federal government's alleged doublecross, state and local of-
ficials have historically been too patient with their own problems.
For example, Ann Arbor waited until this summer to annex a
low-cost subdivision which has badly needed city services for sev-
eral years.
Garden Homes, an awful aggregation of barrack houses, many
with no indoor plumbing and several with outhouses, has been sit-
ting on the northwest corner of Ann Arbor begging for water and
sewage services.
Most of its waste is being flushed directly into the Huron
River.
Now all the city has to do is draw 4f plans for tying Garden
Homes into the treatment plant and pick a target date for imple-
mentation - something it still hasn't done.
IN ALL FAIRNESS, though, the administration of Ann Arbor
Mayor Robert Harris has recognized the problems of the Huron
River. Harris is responsible for the recent annexation and for some
further pre-planning.
If the river is cleaned up. the biggest payoff will be in increas-
ed recreation. Harris is hoping to set up parks along the river in
Ann Arbor for picnicking and boating - though not for swimming.
"People will still have to use the municipal pools for swimming
beaune of the n oihtionn" Harris admits

Still Ann Arbor's treatment plant compares favorably to most
cities. Only 19 cities in the nation, for instance, break down 90
per cent of the nitrates and phosphates in sewage.
Ann Arbor takes 10 per cent out. Nitrates and phosphates are
super-vitamins for aquatic plant growth. And the green plants con-
sume oxygen. At night when the oxygen cycle is temporarily stop-
ped, non-oxygen reactions produce things like methane gas-re-
sulting in unholy stinks and fish kills.
Plant growth also accelerates the biological aging of the river,
and has helped Lake Erie age more in the last 50 years than it did
in the previous 10 million.
BUT PERHAPS Ann Arbor's biggest sin is its storm sewers, which
collect silt from construction sites, oil from gas stations,
pesticides from lawns and salt from city streets-and which empty
this junk into the river, giving it the muddy comnplexion,
Above Ann Arbor the river is used largely for farm irrigation
and recreation. Kensington, Waterloo and Pinckney area three of
the most popular swimming areas.

summer cottages become year-round homes in the upper basin.
ALMOST ALL the river's tributaries are in the upper watershed.
Mill Creek, which drains some of the most fertile land in the
area, is the largest tributary. Mill Creek contributes to the river's
burden, however, by dumping in fertilizers from the farms.
The municipality of Dexter, though, is one of the worst threats
to the river's purity.
Dexter dumps in only 150,000 gal/day of effluent, compared to
Ann Arbor's 14 million gal/day. But Dexter filters out less than 40
per cent of its sewage and thereby contributes much more pollution
per capita.
Dexter's treatment is also being criticized for another short-
coming. As required by law, Lyndon's Photo Lab of Dexter tosses its
chemical slough into the treatment plant. Sodium thiosulfate, a
compound which neutralizes chlorine, is included in the company's
chemical waste.
Chlorine is used by the plant to kill bacteria, which carry
diseae i wrms e atvtnhoid.When the thiosulfate breaksri mnnthe

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