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GLIN==> Water sampling on St. Marys River scheduled

6/1/2007 10:27:00 AM
Water sampling on the river scheduled
Coordinated efforts from both countries aim to find source of contamination

     By Shannon Jones
     Staff Reporter


SAULT STE. MARIE - U.S. and Canadian officials will be relying on help from local residents once again this summer to keep an eye on the water quality in the St. Mary's waterway. Although both governments are aware of the E. coli problem in the river that was substantiated last summer, shorelines will continue to be their target area for bacterial testing.

On Tuesday, May 15, officials from the Chippewa County Health Department, Michigan Department of Environment Quality, and the Environmental Protection Agency as well as a broad spectrum of their Canadian counterparts, held an all-day symposium to discuss the issue with community members at Lake Superior State University.

Because last summer was the first time actual river monitoring took place, officials said they do not have a baseline with which to compare those results. With that in mind, the results from last year will be used as a reference point in this year's testing.

On June 4, 2006, Sugar Island resident D. J. Bumstead reported floating solids in the water near his home. That report resulted in a flurry of activity that led to a "no-body contact" advisory being issued by the CCHD when bacterial levels indicated the water was unsafe for humans. The advisory remained in effect for the entire summer when tests revealed E. coli levels off the charts.

"It was the longest standing no-body contact advisory in history for the health department," said CCHD Sanitarian Christine Daley.

The cause of the high bacterial counts remains unanswered, although at the symposium, officials from both governments indicated their belief that the East End Sewage Plant was the root of the problem. They said they hope that since the plant has been upgraded, they will see the issue dissipate.

This year testing will begin on June 1 and continue through October. According to Daley, testing will be concentrated at shore locations, but the possibility of river testing exists if reports of floating solids are once again received.

Residents were heavily involved last summer in testing efforts, providing transportation and samples to the local authorities. Daley said she will be distributing sample kits and offering a training session on sampling in the near future for those persons who are interested in volunteering.

Residents in Sault, Mich. felt the impact of the advisory more than their Canadian neighbors, said Sherri Cleaves of Algoma Public Health, as the U.S. side has more public bathing beaches than the Canadian side. She said this year that situation could change, as low water levels have created more beaches.

APH will work on sampling as well, staggering their sites, from July to August. They will likely sample on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, hoping to get results back before the weekend. If high bacterial counts come back from the lab, Cleaves said advisories will be made and signs put up notifying the public on the Canadian side. APH will coordinate their efforts with CCHD, as well as the Ministry of Environment.

Commenting on the efforts of both countries, Batchewana Bay Chief Dean Sayers said he would like to see sampling conducted in the off-season as well, prior to the start of shipping.

"We can develop more processes to get a better snapshot of what is happening in the river," he said. "The First Nations on both sides of the water - Batchewana Bay, Garden River, Sault Tribe, and Bay Mills - want to monitor data collection processes."

Despite the plans to continue testing, officials indicated that they do not have the ability to fix the problem.

"We are not empowered to fix it when we find it," said Debbie Burniston, co-chair of Environment Canada. "Our managers will be informed and will be taking the next step, and that depends on what is found."

Anyone interested in monitoring the status of the St. Mary's waterway is encouraged to visit the Department of Environmental Quality's website at www.mich.gov. Test results and beach advisories are listed and updated frequently at this site.

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