Miller: Tests find high E.coli levels in Red Run Drain

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Sterling Heights  — Two areas of high E.coli bacteria levels were found along the Red Run Drain in Warren, Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller said Wednesday. 

She said the levels were so high, they're off the scale of her office's testing equipment. The state standard for acceptable levels of E. coli is 300 colonies per 100 milliliters.

Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller said Wednesday high levels of E .coli bacteria were found in two areas along the Red Run Drain.

"To put it in context, when you have a count of 300 or more you're closing beaches," Miller said. "We found in two different spots it was at 2,400, which is the maximum the testing equipment goes to. They were off the charts."

Miller said her office has launched an investigation into the cause of the high levels of the bacteria, which normally lives in the intestines of humans and other mammals.

"We need to identify the source, whatever it is and fix it," she said.

This area of the Red Run Drain, which runs from Madison Heights in Oakland County through the city of Warren and ends in Sterling Heights, is one of the two places Macomb County officials said they found high levels of E.coli.

Miller made Wednesday's announcement and her remarks at a news conference held on the banks of the Red Run Drain near 14 Mile and Hoover Road.

The site where she made the announcement is also the location where a woman who was kayaking on the creek last month spotted a strange-looking sheen to the water and reported it to the Macomb County Public Works office, she said.

Most strains of E.coli are harmless, but some strains can cause rashes, vomiting, diarrhea, infections and other illnesses, according to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The bacteria can be transmitted through water and food or contact with animals and other people.

Officials said E. coli can get into the water from illicit waste connections to storm sewers, sewer overflows and storm runoff. The public works commissioner said she believes that is likely behind the high levels her office found.

Miller said investigators in her office tracked the E. coli to two stormwater pipes owned by the city of Warren. They collected and tested samples from more than 20 locations along the drain, she said.

One of the pipes in question is 36-inch-diameter pipe located off of 14 Mile between Schoenherr and Bunert Road. The other is a 72-inch-diameter pipe located near Schoenherr and Interstate 696.

Both pipes are part of the Schoenherr Relief Drain, which was built in the 1950s and runs along Schoenherr Road from Nine Mile to just north of 14 Mile.

She said she has spoken to city of Warren officials about the problem and they have assured her the issue will be addressed.

"They are in the city of Warren's pipes," Miller said. "We've contacted them, they are well aware of what we've found here and they've assured us they're going to get right on it."

She said her office will follow up with the city to make sure corrective action is taken.

Warren Mayor Jim Fouts said Wednesday city officials have begun to address the problem.  

"It's all hands on deck," he said. "I want to make sure we can get to the bottom of this. Regardless of the upcoming holiday, this is a high priority. I've requested everyone drop what they're doing and focus on this."

Fouts said city staff is conducting its own water tests of the drain and investigating potential causes. He said city engineers have told him it's possible the problem stems from an influx of geese in the area or some other animal.

"Once we find out what's causing it, it shouldn't be that long to find the solution," Fouts said.

In the meantime, he said Warren residents do not have to worry about their drinking water being contaminated since the problem was discovered in storm drains and not the city's water supply system.

A county drain, the Red Run Drain starts at about John R Road in Madison Heights in Oakland County, runs through the city of Warren and ends at about the intersection of Metropolitan Parkway and Utica Road in Sterling Heights in Macomb County.

It was designed to move rainwater from storm sewers and roadways out to the Clinton River, and eventually Lake St. Clair.

The drain has had a long history of high concentrations of E. coli. In December 2005, county testing of E.coli levels in the creek near 14 Mile and Chicago Road in Warren found an average reading of 2,344 colonies of the bacteria per 100 milliliters of water for the month.

Miller also said Wednesday her office is conducting a comprehensive inspection of all of Macomb County's drains.