Tag Archives: EPA

Saginaw Bay – Officially Polluted for 30 years.


On summer mornings with coffee in hand I walk down to the beach and gaze out over that the vast expanse of water between Port Austin and Tawas. It’s thought of as an idyllic ecosystem full of tasty Perch and Walleye. It’s playground for swimming, sailing and boating. The sugar sand beaches are where many baby’s experience their first Great Lakes dunking and children play and make sand castles at the water’s edge. 

However, back in the era of Big Hair, Members Only jackets and Yuppies, the EPA and the State of Michigan designated the entire region as a potential environmental disaster. The deterioration and pollution was so bad that the label of “Area of Concern” was slapped on the Saginaw Bay in 1987 and has not been lifted for 30 years. 

Saginaw Bay AOCWhile researching another topic, I stumbled on to the DEQs website outlining the problems identified with the Saginaw River and Bay. There are twelve extremely significant Beneficial Use Impairments (BUIs) identified. To achieve de-listing as an Area of Concern, each of the BUIs must be identified as solved.  In the past 30 years, only three BUIs have been remedied. I had no clue that this serious set of conditions existed. I don’t recall it ever being publicized.

Three Long Decades of Little Progress

The Saginaw River/Bay Area Of Concern was listed due to contaminated sediments, fish consumption advisories, high bacteria, nutrient enrichment (e.g., phosphorus), sedimentation, degraded fisheries, and loss of significant recreational values. Part of the region near the Tittabawassee River was listed as a Superfund site and flows right into the Bay and out to Lake Huron. This listing was in 1988 when the entire Great Lakes watershed was experiencing the same high water levels as we are now in 2017.

Here are the problems identified in the 1980’s, all but 3 continue today.

  1. Restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption – Dioxin contamination from Tittabawassee River sediments are a current and active source of dioxin contamination to the Saginaw River and Saginaw Bay.
  2. Tainting of fish and wildlife flavor – Chemical odors and tastes associated with fish caught in the Tittabawassee River and the Saginaw River/Bay AOC were frequently reported from the 1940s through the 1970s. This issue has been deem solved in 2008.
  3. Port Cresent State Park BonesBird or animal deformities or reproductive problems – Terns, herons, and eagles that were injured due to contaminants and linked to death (Caspian terns), malfunctions in reproduction (Caspian terns, common terns, bald eagles), and physical deformations (black-crowned night herons, Caspian terns, common terns)
  4. Degradation of benthos – Degradation of the benthos of Saginaw Bay as an impaired use because the benthic community structure in the bay is significantly degraded from that which occurs in unpolluted sites elsewhere in the Great Lakes. Specifically, the mayfly, once abundant in Saginaw Bay and an important component of the fish forage base, is currently only rarely found in the bay. Researchers believe that high oxygen demand created by increased decomposition of organic debris in the sediments has decreased dissolved oxygen levels below that needed to support mayflies and other pollution in-tolerant species
  5. Restrictions on dredging activities – Historically, sediments dredged from parts of the navigation channel in the Saginaw River and Saginaw Bay require confined disposal because of elevated levels of pollutants, including PCBs, several metals (e.g., mercury), nutrients, and oil and grease.
  6. Eutrophication (aka High Fertilizer and Poop Levels) or undesirable algaebeach12Nuisance organic “muck” debris, composed mainly of Cladophora (a benthic algae), continues to wash ashore along Saginaw Bay (Saginaw Bay Science Committee Pathogen Work Group, 2007). These conditions are thought to be caused, in part, by the cultural eutrophication of Saginaw Bay. In 2012 Thumbwind posted an article that testing of this “muck” showed it contained bovine and human fecal material. “Poop”! We were swimming with poop.
  7. Restrictions on drinking water consumption or taste and odor problems – The drinking water use impairment was originally identified primarily due to significant taste and odor problems during the 1970s that were linked to excessive blue-green algal (i.e., cyanobacteria) blooms, which had caused some of the drinking water intakes in the bay to exceed federal threshold odor standards. Deemed solved in 2008.
  8. Beach closings – Public advisories are periodically issued following storm events by local health departments warning against body contact with the Saginaw River and Saginaw Bay because of elevated levels of pathogens (E. coli) resulting from combined sewer overflows. Just about every beach in the Upper Thumb has been closed at one time or another due to high E. coli levels.
  9. Saginaw Bay shoreline muckDegradation of aesthetics – Like the Eutrophication (aka High Fertilizer and Poop Levels) or Undesirable Algae use impairment, increased biological productivity in Saginaw Bay resulted in an increase in the organic debris or “muck” washing up on the shoreline of Saginaw Bay. The debris consists of decomposing algae, aquatic plants, and small invertebrate animals. The smell and unsightliness of this beach debris prompted citizen complaints and concern about pollution entering the bay. Because of these complaints, aesthetics was listed as a use impairment for Saginaw Bay
  10. Degradation of phyto- or zooplankton populations – The lack of zooplankton grazing in Saginaw Bay was believed to be due, in part, to a greater abundance of large, unpalatable filamentous blue-green and green algae in Saginaw Bay. Believed to be caused by the cultural eutrophication of Saginaw Bay, which was brought about by excessive nutrient loading. Phosphorus appeared to be the key factor responsible for excessive growth.
  11. Degradation of fish and wildlife populations & 12. Loss of fish and wildlife habitat – Habitat degradation includes the loss of coastal marsh areas, the sedimentation of fish spawning reefs in Saginaw Bay, and numerous impacts from exotic species (e.g. goby, ruffe, and zebra mussels). This habitat loss and degradation has impaired the reproductive success and growth of numerous aquatic and wildlife species. Deemed solved in 2014

We have reached out to the Michigan DEQ with the hopes of getting an update on the progress of Saginaw River/Bay’s AOC. If there is a response, we will update.

Featured Photo provided by Saginaw Future via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Map provided by EPA. All other photos (c) ThumbWind
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Algae Bloom in Michigan’s Saginaw Bay Seen from Space


From NASA

This post was originally published in 2012. It’s one of the most viewed and searched for on ThumbWind until our Michigan Wind Farm Map was issued. With the recent budget cuts announced for the EPA by the current administration it’s feared that the Great Lakes and Saginaw Bay will once again experience muck and fecal encrusted beaches.

The once pristine waters of Michigan’s Saginaw Bay now look like Lake Erie in the 1960’s. This observation was made by oceanographers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, after reviewing images made by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Aqua satellite on October 9, 2011.

Researchers were comparing algae blooms in Lake Erie and Saginaw Bay. “This is considered the worst bloom in decades,” says Richard Stumpf of NOAA. The green in Saginaw Bay is probably an algal bloom as well.” According to NASA, over the past decade Microcystis, a type of blue-green algae known to produce the toxin microcystin, has returned to the Great Lakes. No single cause has been pinpointed, but runoff from cities, fertilizers, septic tank overflow, zebra mussels, and livestock near water supplies are likely culprits.

Saginaw River a Significant Source

Despite $45 million in improvements, Bay City and Saginaw wastewater treatment overflow millions of gallons with partially treated waste water into Saginaw River which flows into the Bay. Laura Ogar, the Bay County Director of Environmental Affairs and Community Development notes that reports are made averaging six overflows a year. Published reports estimated that 90 million gallons of overflow occurred in 2011. Bacteria still present in the water without full treatment.


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Breaking: Great Lakes Under Stronger Anti-Pollution Rules by EPA


EPA

At almost the last moment a North Dakota District Judge acted late on Thursday to block the EPA’s anti water pollution rule, hours before it was due to take effect.

Judge Ralph Erickson of the District Court for the District of North Dakota found that the 13 states suing to block the rule met the conditions necessary for a preliminary injunction, including that they would likely be harmed if courts didn’t act and that they are likely to succeed when their underlying lawsuit against the rule is decided.

Injunction Does Not Apply to the Great Lakes

The EPA plans to largely enforce the regulation as planned, arguing that the Thursday decision only applies to the 13 Algae Bloom Saginaw Baystates that requested the injunction.  In a statement shortly after the ruling, the EPA was defiant and said that the injunction only applies in the 13 states that filed for it: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. The injunction does not apply to Michigan therefore the new rules take effect today across the Great Lakes Region. “In all other respects, the rule is effective on August 28,” EPA Press Secretary Melissa Harrison said in the statement. “The agencies are evaluating these orders and considering next steps in the litigation.”

Michigan and Ohio suffer from seasonal algae blooms in Saginaw Bay and Western Lake Erie due to sewage and farm run-off.

Farm Bureau Freaking Out On Proposed EPA Regs


The Michigan Farm Bureau is organizing a consolidated effort to shield it’s members from being held accountable for pollution in the Great Lakes. This summers total shutdown of the Toledo water system due to farm and sewer runoff has put the issue front and center in the minds of lawmakers and consumers. The Environmental Protection Agency is stepping in to expand its scope to include the rivers and inlets that lead to United States waters, including the Great Lakes. The prospect of this new accountability has factory farms and the Farm Bureau scrambling for cover as farm activities has been clearly identified as the prime contributor of the cause of the deadly blue-green algae that shut down Toledo’s water system.

Michigan’s Candice Miller threw her support to the Farm Bureau on the issue and publicly stated that she thinks the EPA is overreaching. However she has no answers as to what do do to prevent a similar catastrophe, like what happened in Toledo, from affecting Michigan’s Great Lakes. Lake Huron supplies fresh water to Detroit, Flint, Bay City and Saginaw regions. It could be a public health nightmare should this regions water supply suffer the same fate as Toledo.

Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay was identified as a Region for Concern by the EPA. Toxic algae blooms were visible from Noaa satellites in space.

Manure spraying on fields.