Source: Sherman Publications

Guest viewpoint

November 20, 2013

A few days ago as I was driving along main street, there was a man “mowing” the leaves that were in the road, in what I assume was an attempt to make it easier for them to wash into the storm drain. Today, out walking my dogs, I passed several piles of leaves that homeowners had left in their ditch directly in front of the drain opening, seemingly so that they could be washed away into the storm drain. Out of sight, out of mind.

Clarkston and Independence Township both have stormwater permits. I’ll probably be called a zealot like I have been in the past, because if I’m known for anything, its harping about our improperly managed stormwater. Its not that “we” are any different than anywhere else in Michigan, and quite frankly, the “fault” does not lie with the individuals who have been vested in charge of these programs. The responsibility, the “fault” if you will, lies with the state. Possible also the federal government. And here’s why.

There are six minimum control measures that the MS4s (Municipal separate storm sewer systems) must identify BMPs (best management practices) with which to reduce impact and risk.One-third of the program,two of the MCMs are about educating the public and getting them to participate. They happen to be the most important aspect of the program.

Why? Because the individuals mentioned who are helping to wash the leaves into the storm drain, along with the home owners who fertilize their lakeshore properties or dig up river banks or any number of other activities that are harmful to watershed health, are not evil horrid people. They just don’t know that their actions are collectively serious impacts that will cost them thousands, possibly millions of dollars later on. And why is that? Because the way our programs are developed, and approved by the state, are paper pushing exercises that do not contain “meaningful” BMPs.

What is a meaningful BMP? Well, for instance, its educating homeowners to impacts specific to their community, such as that when they wash their leaf bits into the storm drain, one of two things happens. First, particulate that includes sediment along with the leaf bits settle out when the water carrying them is reduced and slows down. Water in this area has a high pH, around 8 to 8.5. It becomes “saturated relative to calcium”, or in homeowners terms, its hard water. What happens in your house with your pipes when the water is hard and you don’t have a water softener? The calcium builds up over time, sometimes rather quickly, and it reduces the capacity of your pipe. Sometimes, as in the case with sediment and leaves, it will eventually put so much pressure on the pipe as to cause it to break, like in the situation that happened with the Christie Homestead, where a sinkhole formed.

Another scenario is the sediment and leaf debris does actually get washed into the Mill Pond, or park lake, or some creek. As the debris decays, it uses up the oxygen available for aquatic life. It reduces the ability of the water body to be maintained as a habitat. As anyone who lives along the Mill Pond knows, the build up, when needing to be dredged, costs a pretty penny.

Add to that homeowners who really like their green lawns over fertilizing without understanding that they are reducing the value of their waterfront property because the added phosphorus or nitrogen is a significant cause of algal blooms. When this gets washed down the watershed, and eventually discharged into Lake Erie, we end up with a situation where the water becomes toxic and you can’t even swim in it. Western Lake Erie is in serious trouble, and if you fertilize your lawn along a water body, well, you’re part of the problem.

I’m not trying to point the finger at anyone. If someone doesn’t get it, they don’t get it. But if someone wants to get it, and wants to learn a better way of doing things, I just happen to specialize in watershed outreach and education. Oh, and in natural shoreline stabilization. If you don’t happen to like me, that’s ok. There’s plenty of work to go around and I can recommend several other local individuals who I highly respect. But if you want training, and want to learn a better way to reduce impact on your lake or waterbody, please feel free to contact me at tammie.heazlit@gmail.com

Tammie Heazlit is a hydrogeologist and stormwater specialist living in Independence Township