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Microbiologist Confirmed Lake Huron Muck is Poop

Lake Huron Muck

Lake Huron Muck is Poop

The Huron Daily Tribune reported in May of 2012  that during the Huron County Board of Commissioners meeting a certain uncomfortable document was highlighted by Dr. David Swenson from Michigan State University. Joan Rose, an MSU microbiologist has determined the bacteria in the lake along the shore are from both animal and human waste,” said Swenson. “The animal waste is from runoff from area farms and there’s no acceptable reason to have it getting into the lake because there are technologies available to take care of that.” Quite simply put, Lake Huron Muck is poop.

Lake Huron Muck on the Beach
Beach Muck on Saginaw Bay

This announcement was feared in the Upper Thumb due to its dependency on tourism and sports fishing in Saginaw Bay. This report comes on the heels of earlier stories about the grey smelly muck that comes in on some beaches in the summer. It should be noted that there are anecdotal stories of muck in Saginaw Bay go back to the 1960s during the massive alewife die off, but other accounts mention problem muck as far back as the 1920s. This is the first study that points to both human and bovine origination of the contaminate.

Water quality monitoring is conducted by county health departments in Michigan and county health units in Ontario at select beaches to detect bacteria that indicate the presence of disease-causing microbes from fecal (aka poop) pollution. Based on the number of E. coli forming units (CFU) in the water. Canada will issue an advisory not to swim or enter the water at 100 cfu/100 milliliter while Michigan is less stringent and issues advisories at 300 cfu/100 milliliter of water. (ECCC and USEPA, 2017).

Recent Muck Updates from the EPA

Nitrate and Phosphorus Contamination in Lake Huron
Spring surface total phosphorus (mg/L) and nitrate plus nitrite (mg/L) concentrations in the Great Lakes (2013-2014) (ECCC and the USEPA, 2014).

The Environmental Protection Agency has placed the Saginaw Bay region as an “Area of Concern” for over 30 years. In the late summer, the algae blooms in Saginaw Bay can be clearly seen from space. In 2018 the EPA issued a report Lake Huron Lakewide Action Plan 2017-2020. The EPA noted that the current status of harmful algal blooms is ‘fair’ with an ‘undetermined’ trend offshore, and a ‘deteriorating’ trend nearshore. The summertime “beach muck is a brew of Cladophora, Chara, and periphyton.

The EPA attributes the causes of beach muck with the following statement. “A variety of human activities can increase nutrient pollution and promote nuisance and harmful algae growth. Sources of excess nutrients from urban areas include runoff and sewer overflows. In rural areas, the mishandling of animal waste or fertilizers can contribute to excess nutrients. Cage aquaculture (aka CAFOs) operations must be properly sited and managed to minimize enrichment of nearby waters. Faulty septic systems can leak nutrients (and bacterial pollution) into nearshore waters. The impacts of climate change are causing increased nutrient pollution due to severe rain events and warmer conditions that promote nuisance and harmful algae growth. “

Advisories and What You Can Do

  • It is advised to not get into or disturb the muck or algae. Contact with it can result in rashes, hives and illness. Sometimes severe
  • Remove dry muck with care and bury away from the shore.
  • Choose phosphate-free detergents, soaps, and cleaners – use appropriate amounts
  • Avoid using lawn fertilizers
  • Always pick up pet waste
  • Use natural processes to manage stormwater runoff and reduce the number of impervious surfaces (cement and blacktop)
  • Install a rain barrel and plant a rain garden with native plants, shrubs, and trees so that water soaks into the ground;
  • Inspect and pump out your septic system regularly
  • Implement improved septic technologies, including conversion of septic systems to municipal or communal sewage systems
  • Incorporate agricultural best management practices, such as grassed swales, filter and/or buffer strips to control and reduce store stormwater runoff; and Keep cattle out of streams, leave a buffer strip to trap nutrient and sediment runoff, and plant a shelterbelt.

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