Officials: Lake St. Clair quality improving but more cleanup needed

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Harrison Township — Lake St. Clair and the surrounding land are becoming cleaner and more boater and fisher friendly, but more can be done to address illicit drain and sewer issues, officials said Wednesday.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel gives a thumbs up to a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter that performed a live rescue at the MacRay Harbor Marina in Harrison Township on Wednesday.


At the seventh annual State of Lake St. Clair address, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller and others touted the lake and other efforts to plant trees, restore shorelines and increase the visibility of the recreational areas.

"Water quality, that's the No. 1 thing," said Hackel, who added that former U.S. Rep. Miller has helped address issues with Lake St. Clair. "The other is water access. Face it, we're kind of land locked with homes and marinas out on the lakefront. How do we make it a destination location?"

A prime example is New Baltimore, which has been "transformed into a destination town so people want to come there because they make it accessible for others," he said.

The recent efforts by the Detroit Zoo to build a freshwater nature center in Macomb County, Lake St. Clair is a growing attraction for the public, Hackel said.

"Once you touch it, feel it, you feel ownership, too, about those various issues of cleanliness, attractions and obviously creating opportunities for people to enjoy," he said.

Efforts to help the lake have been great, Miller, said but more needs to be done.

"I think it's very important that we recognize that the state of Lake St. Clair is very good, it's improved, it's improving, but we still need to improve," she said.

Miller talked about how for generations "we've been releasing what we call combined sewer overflows in heavy rain events." She said her department is focused on reducing or eliminating overflows.

"We are putting together a plan, costing it out," she said. "Nothing's going to be free. But we can't just keep passing that on, generation after generation."

Another effort that's required, Miller said, is to inspect all kinds of drains — storm, enclosed, open — some of which were built in the 1960s and "have never been inspected."

Officials found some "illicit connections where we have contamination like raw sanitary sewage going right into these storm drains," she said.

"As we find them, we fix them," Miller said.

The event here at the MacRay Harbor Marina featured speakers from St. Clair County's board of commissioners, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments and the Michigan Boating Industries Association. 

Lake St. Clair's improving water quality has fueled more boating and fishing, said Nicki Polan, executive director of the Michigan Boating Industries Association.

"Clean water is ultimately important to our industry," Polan said. "And also stopping the Asian Carp invasive species that would destroy the fisheries and or inhibit boating activities. We'd love to see that take top priority."

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