Tag Archives: Saginaw Bay

Wilderness Surveyor to Victorious General


In the mid 1800’s much of Michigan was wilderness. While many settlements were established on the shore, there was few government maps and almost no official documentation of water depth and shore topology.  Local knowledge from “fisherman and coastals” was depended on.  By the 1840’s the US Army was tasked with conducting the first accurate survey of Lake Huron from the St Mary’s River to the St Clair


George-meadeIn 1857, Captain George Meade relieved Lt. Col. James Kearney on the Lakes Survey mission of the Great Lakes. Meade had already established a successful assignments of building lighthouses and mapping the shoals and reefs of the Florida Keys. It’s shallow reefs have ravaged shipping since the Spanish plied the Caribbean in the 1500’s.

George Meade came to Michigan in 1857 to make the first survey of Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron. As a civil engineer of the US Army he “leveled the base line” The method was to use a series of triangulated line-of-site towers that based on angle could be accurately measured from point to point.

The line-of-sight signaling towers erected on Charity Island, Oak Point, Sand Point, Tawas Point, Point Au Barques, Forestville and others assisted in the survey measurement. These towers measured from 82 to 169 feet above the water level and were considered the highest artificial structures ever made for triangulation measurement in the United States. Measurement was done a survey instrument called a theodolite capturing the flashing mirror of a distant tower.


signal-tower-circa -1860Captain Meade needed a Prime Meridian point. He established a this at a base camp on located on Sand Point.  The jut of land extended out into  Saginaw Bay offering large line of site vantage point. Meade cleared an area and placed a marker while surveying to denoting the new Prime Meridian line for Saginaw Bay and all of Lake Huron. From the United States Land Survey Station, Sand Point, Saginaw Bay all “geodetic positions of all points of triangulation” were calculated. There is record of Latitude and Longitude observations and calculations made from Sand Point from July 2 through October 9th 1857. They calculated the longitude position of Sand Point Station Latitude at 43° 54’ 39” 79 N , Longitude 5h, 33m 22s.976 west of Greenwich at (conputed at 83° 20’ 44” .64 ) [ Note that the original longitude convention was added.  Page 1266 “Message of the President of the United States Communicated to the Two Houses of Congress”, 1858]

Completion of the survey of Lake Huron and extension of the surveys of Lake Michigan down to Grand and Little Traverse Bays were done under his command. Prior to Captain Meade’s command, Great Lakes’ water level readings were taken locally with temporary gauges; a uniform plane of reference had not been established. In 1858, based on his recommendation, instrumentation was set in place for the tabulation of records across the basin. In 1860, the first detailed report of Great Lakes was published.


meade-report-1859In 1861 when the war was declared between the North and the South Washington sent notice calling Captain Meade into active service as a brigadier general. The orders were delivered to Detroit as Meade was making preparations to return to Washington DC to take over a new Topographic group authorized by Congress. Local lore tells that notice of his assignment was delivered to the Sand Point Station from Port Austin as there was no Post Office in Caseville. Before he left the Great Lakes for the war he urged Congress to fund further survey work on Lake Michigan and Superior noting that economic growth and safety of the waterways could be achieved. General Meade won the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863 which is considered the turning point of the war.


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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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In 2012 Saginaw Bay Muck Was Poop


This post was originally published in 2012. It’s one of the most viewed and searched for on ThumbWind.  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.

We were trying to think of a tactful headline for this piece but decided cut to the chase. Huron County lake front owners have known for years that the declining water quality in Saginaw Bay is due to two factors. 1) Outdated and failing septic tanks and overflow from Bay City. 2) Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations CAFOs. Now we have actual experts that confirmed local suspicions of what exactly is in the muck that has been appearing on beaches.

At the 2012 Saginaw Bay Watershed Conference held at Saginaw Valley State University, Marc Werhougstraete, a Michigan State University Department of Fisheries and Wildlife research assistant, said muck means sewage and fecal matter are likely present.

The blue green muck is composed of different types of algae, macrophytes and decomposing organic matter that varies from season to season. In research Werhougstraete conducted at the Bay City State Recreation Area, he found both human and bovine feces (poop) in the muck.

Basically if you see the muck on the beach, think “poop”. Don’t go into the water and don’t let your kids play in the wet sand. “To reduce risk of contracting illness”, said Werhougstraete,  “avoid contact with muck, wash hands when in contact with it and do not submerge your head in the water.”

Common muck management, such as raking, also can release the pathogens from the muck. People cleaning beaches should do so in the morning, when the beaches are less busy and the sun can kill bacteria, Werhougstraete said.

The algae and muck have gotten so bad in recent years it now compares with the situation Lake Erie faced in the 1960s. NASA released pictures shot from the space station that showed the full algae bloom in 2011.

Featured image from  NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research


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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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