Lake St. Clair Beach Closures

by mcote01 on November 10, 2017 - 9:12pm

“Welcome to Lake St. Clair, Where Water Pollution and Beach Closures Remain Unresolved” by Keith Matheny is an article written to inform Detroit citizens about why the beaches of Lake St. Clair are annually closed due to pollutant contamination and high E. coli levels. The counties that exist around the lake have been transformed from permeable farmland to impermeable residential communities over the last several decades. This change in the area’s water infiltration ability has caused an increase in the amount of stormwater runoff that is being diverted into Lake St. Clair. The area’s stormwater infrastructure is dated and too small for the quantity of runoff entering into the system during rainfall. As a result, untreated sewage overflow is directly washed into the waterbody because of the city’s combined sewer system, impacting fisheries, aquatic ecosystems, and human use of the lake. The article provides perspective from both sides of the conflict, as citizens want to see progress made on pollution mitigation and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) needs people to understand it is a long and costly process. Although over $400 million has been spent on updating storm infrastructure and creating retention basins with overflow treatment practices, true solutions for St. Clair’s pollution problem are still elusive.

One issue that was only touched upon in the article is there being direct evidence that agriculture and industry are also a major contributor to Lake St. Clair’s pollution levels. The article briefly states that Clinton River, which is a tributary to the lake, contains large amounts of agriculture and industry along its shores. 84% of samplings from the river show elevated phosphorus levels, a known agricultural and industrial effluent, far exceeding EPA standards (1). It’s surprising that this issue is so briefly touched upon in an article that is about Lake St. Clair pollution sources. The way DEQ members answer questions about pollution sources throughout the article puts an emphasis on runoff. This skews readers into thinking that stormwater is the major pollution source and mitigating it will be the ultimate solution. The way this environmental issue has been portrayed reflects a difference in values between different bodies. The state, in this case the DEQ, seems to understand that pollution in the lake is an issue but is probably being influenced by another governmental body to not point the finger at the practices fueling the economy. The ultimate goal for the state is to mitigate pollution without compromising economic advancements, while the resource management goal for citizens is to be able to swim and drink the lake’s water again. The state is caught between needing to provide results for its citizens and keeping the economy strong, which is why pollution continues to increase, despite so much money being spent on new infrastructure. In order to resolve the resource management issue of freshwater pollution, this value based conflict needs to be resolved and co-management might be the solution. Having the state work with a council of concerned citizens will allow for management of the lake to act from both perspectives. A council advocating for water quality improvements within the lake may be grounds for altering the state’s perspective. Together the 2 sides can work to improve water quality and maintain economic advancements. Clean water will result in increased revenue for the lake’s tourism industry and implementation of pollutant filters, along the river’s edge, will improve water quality, while not disrupting agricultural and industrial processes. The use of co-management for the lake will hopefully create an equilibrium between economic advancement and water quality improvements, resulting in a win-win situation for both sides.

 1. Matheny, K. (2017, 29 September). Welcome to Lake St. Clair, Where Water Pollution and Beach Closures Remain Unresolved. Retrieved from