"Sunday, January 2, 2005
Sewage Overflows Better in Lakes Than in Basements
Plan to send diluted sewage into lakes to prevent basement back-ups is the better alternative
The choice is not a good one: Dump raw sewage into basements, rivers and streams when storms overwhelm the sewer system, or allow it to flow into the lakes.
State and local officials are asking the Environmental Protection Agency to approve a "sewage blending" plan that would spare homeowners from basement sludge, but may lead to higher contamination levels in Lake St. Clair and other lakes.
Sewage blending mixes untreated sewage with fully treated wastewater during storms. The mix would flow into the lakes.
The plan would prevent raw sewage from backing up into basements in places like Ecorse and Dearborn Heights, and keep it out of most of the Rouge and Clinton rivers systems.
The alternative is finding millions, perhaps billions, of dollars in strapped local budgets to separate storm and waste sewer lines.
The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) backs the blending plan as the most economically viable, and the least environmentally damaging. The region already faces more than $16 billion in sewer upgrades over the next 25 years.
Environmentalists decry the proposal, saying it will increase the risk of disease and infection for people who use the lakes.
Their concerns should be heard.
But economic realities mean hard choices have to be made. There are not billions of dollars available to do the necessary sewer line separations.
Allowing the sewage to continue to flow into the basements of homeowners, or into inland streams, is more damaging than dumping blended sewage into the lakes.
Sewage has to go somewhere. Until the money can be found to upgrade the sewers, it's better going diluted into the lakes than winding up full-strength in basements."