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Last Updated: May 12. 2011 1:00AM

Group rips Wayne over sewage

County's 13B gallons make up 86% of all waste dumped in state this year, report says

Jim Lynch / / The Detroit News

Detroit— The amount of Wayne County sewage that is reaching Michigan waters this year without being fully treated is producing calls for action.

In four months, Wayne County has discharged more than 13 billion gallons of raw or partially treated sewage into the state's lakes and streams, according to data published by the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association, a trade group.

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That's roughly 86 percent of the 15 billion gallons of waste discharged by the state as a whole. Wayne County, with the largest population in the state, produced 5 billion gallons of discharged waste March 4 alone: "enough to fill 8,300 Olympic-size swimming pools," said Keith Ledbetter, MITA's director of legislative affairs.

The wastes from that day wound up in the Detroit and Rouge rivers.

Ledbetter said the numbers show the need for a renewed commitment to addressing outdated and failing sewer infrastructure throughout the state.

"People can't help but take notice that many of our roads and bridges are in bad shape but when a sewer pipe is leaking underground, it's out of sight, out of mind," Ledbetter said. "This head-in-the-sand mentality has led public officials to eliminate infrastructure funding while casting a blind eye at the ongoing — and growing — pollution of our state's trademark fresh waters."

State officials said the numbers are bad, but not as bad as presented by the trade group. The amounts tallied when treated water is mixed with partially treated or raw sewage during overflows is misleading, according to Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials.

"Raw sewage discharges are a threat to human health and the environment," Brad Wurfel, the agency's communications director, wrote in a written response to questions. "Last year, statewide, Michigan municipalities reported 7.29 billion gallons of raw sewage discharged for the entire year. MITA's implication that a dozen municipalities discharged 15 billion gallons in the first quarter of the year overstates the seriousness of the situation."

Other Metro Detroit counties made MITA's Dirty Dozen List of the top dischargers in Michigan through the first four months of 2011. Macomb County was second, having released more than 1 billion gallons and Oakland County was eighth with 32.2 million gallons.

Wurfel said progress toward upgrading municipal sewage systems across the state — separating old combined sewer and water lines that overflow during heavy rains — has been held up by the tough financial predicament most counties have been in for years. That includes those serviced by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department in Wayne County.

"… Many of the municipalities have been hit hard by the state's economy and are simply doing all they can with what they have," Wurfel said. "Bottom line, the human health and environmental risk implied in the (MITA) news release is vastly overstated."

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