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Ground Water Aquifer Depletion Becoming a Significant National and State Issue

by Scott Brown

MWA e – Newsletter Editor

The freshwater that lies beneath the earth’s surface that is often referred to as groundwater has served as a vital life sustaining resource on earth for millions of years. In the modern era, rural communities, businesses, farms, and private residences located a long distance from lakes, rivers, streams, or urban water systems depend almost entirely upon groundwater wells for fresh potable water. In the past one hundred years, however, ground water consumption in many areas of the United States, and in particular areas that support intensive agricultural or mining operations, has surged as progressively more powerful and effective technological means are used to extract and consume greater volumes of groundwater. Simply put, in many areas of the United States groundwater is being extracted at rates that mother nature in all her glory is not capable of restoring. It is important to note that the United States Geological Survey reports that approximately 10% of the ground water aquifers in the United States fell to their lowest level on record last year.

In a recent interview with the New York Times, Don Cline, United States Geological Survey associate director for water resources indicated that “there’s almost no way to convey how important this issue is…” In Kansas, for example, ground water aquifer depletion has already resulted in a significant reduction in the amount of corn that an average acre is capable of producing. In Michigan’s Ann Arbor township, groundwater wells serving homes, businesses, and farms are failing at a steadily increasing rate due to the extraordinarily high volumes of groundwater that are being extracted by a local aggregate mining operation. Causing local groundwater aquifers to drop to record low levels, the fact that the mining operation is paying to lower, and/or to otherwise restore the groundwater wells of those negatively affected by their operation is of little or no consolation to residents, business leaders, and state and local government officials who view progressively depleted groundwater aquifers as a significant challenge.

Local governments, and/or planning commissions charged with reviewing and/or approving permit applications from those proposing to conduct aggregate mining or other high volume groundwater consumption operations in a particular area need to be acutely aware of the fact that such operations are capable of having a significant influence on local groundwater aquifer levels. Local officials charged with making decisions regarding large scale groundwater extractions would be well advised to conduct a hydrologic study of the area under consideration before approving high volume groundwater withdrawals. Local officials charged with making groundwater extraction related decisions in areas hosting inland lakes that rely on ground water as their primary water source should also be mindful that lower ground water aquifer levels may also equate to lower inland lake levels.

MWA Supports Passage of Governor Whitmer’s Proposed Fiscal Year 2024 State Budget that (Finally) Enables the Battle Against an Onslaught of Terrestrial and Aquatic Exotic Invasive Species in Michigan

MWA Encourages Readers to Contact Their State Representatives

and Senators to Support the Governor’s 2024 Budget Recommendation

Michigan Governor Whitmer’s Fiscal Year 2024 executive budget proposal includes $64 M in funding that along with matching funding from Illinois will enable the completion of a significant modification to the Joliet, Illinois-based Brandon Road Lock and Dam that will help keep highly invasive carp from the entering the Great Lakes in addition to $12 M in funds to establish for the first time in Michigan an exotic invasive species rapid response task force.

In an era marked by the steadily increasing presence of highly invasive exotic terrestrial and aquatic species whose very existence represents a significant threat to Michigan’s economy and culture, funding to create a multi-agency invasive species rapid response task force that will be dedicated to preventing the introduction and establishment of new invasive plant and animal species, and will also work pro-actively to limit the spread and harmful influences of the many exotic invasive species that are already present represents a vital step in Michigan’s battle against exotic invasive species.

It is important to point out that the Brandon Road Lock and Dam in the Chicago Area Waterway System located near Joliet, Illinois is a critical point for on-going collaborative efforts designed to help keep invasive bighead, silver, and black carp from entering the Great Lakes. The project that is being jointly funded by Michigan and Illinois involves installing layered technologies that when complete will include an electric barrier, underwater sound, an air bubble curtain, and a flushing lock that has been designed to prevent the movement of invasive carp while simultaneously allowing barge traffic to pass through the lock passage.

To learn more about the Brandon Road Lock and Dam as it exists today, visit the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers facility dedicated website by clicking here

To download a copy of Governor Whitmer’s proposed Fiscal Year 2024 state budget, click here...

To find your Michigan Senator based on your home address, visit

To find your Michigan Representative based on your home address, visit

Lake Awareness Day Focuses on Protecting Michigan’s High Quality Lakes

by Lois Wolfson

MSU Extension / Institute of Water Research

Key organizations from around the state that work to manage and protect Michigan’s lakes met with legislators, staff, agency personnel, and others during the May 18 forum held at Karoub Associates, a block from the State Capitol. The coordinators of the event prepared infographics and posters with information that highlighted Water Quality and Quantity in inland lakes; Stressors and Impacts; Economics and Ecological Values and Solutions and Support. The event was organized by members of Michigan Waterfront Alliance; Michigan Environmental Council, Michigan Chapter, North American Lake Management Society (McNALMS), Midwest Aquatic Plant Management Society (MAPMS), Michigan Aquatic Managers Association (MAMA), FLOW (For Love of Water), MSU Institute of Water Research and MSU Extension.

Two Generations, and $70 million later, Muskegon Lake is Restored

By Audrey WhitakerCircle of Blue

The Great Lakes News Collaborative includes Bridge Michigan; Circle of Blue; Great Lakes Now at Detroit Public Television; and Michigan Radio, Michigan’s NPR News Leader; who work together to bring audiences news and information about the impact of climate change, pollution, and aging infrastructure on the Great Lakes and drinking water. This independent journalism is supported by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. Find all the work HERE.

“With the conclusion of cleanup efforts on Muskegon Lake, the area has seen an increase in property values and tourism, illustrating the intrinsic connection between the community and its shoreline.”

  • In West Michigan, Muskegon Lake will be removed from the list of Great Lakes Areas of Concern.
  • The completion of restoration efforts comes after over 30 years and $70 million invested in cleanup.
  • Along with the progress and promise of economic revitalization, there is still work to be done to protect water resources in this Lake Michigan Shoreline community.

Before the United States and Canada formally declared Muskegon Lake an “area of concern” the 4,149-acre expanse of polluted, sediment-choked, debris-congested water at the mouth of the Muskegon River was so repulsive that only rats and hungry gulls plied its shores.

More than a century of abuse by sawmills, chemical plants, energy installations, and raw sewage produced conditions so vile that by the early 1980s the lake was all but ecologically dead. In 1987, under the provisions of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, a joint U.S.-Canada pact to clear pollution from the waters of the Great Lakes, Muskegon Lake and its tributaries were designated as one of 43 similarly polluted areas of concern; 26 are located in the U.S., 12 are located in Canada, and five are shared by both countries.

The history of toxic cleanups in the U.S. includes ample evidence that the work is expensive and success is achieved over decades. That is certainly the case with Muskegon Lake. Last May, local, state and federal officials gathered at Heritage Landing, a former industrial-scrapyard-turned-waterfront park on Muskegon Lake’s south shore to declare that the $70 million project to cleanup, remediate and restore Muskegon Lake was complete.

“There is no law, there’s no private cause of action, there’s no ability to sue within the water quality agreement,” said Jon Allan, senior advisor at the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability, and U.S. co-chair of the Great Lakes Water Quality Board. “All it says is the two governments see a common problem, and they say ‘we’ll work on this together.’”

“When [AOCs] were designated, they were designated as the most contaminated places. Shouldn’t the most contaminated places get additional attention because the people who live there have suffered from that for a very long time,” Allan added. “We know enough to act, so let’s use those dollars to act.”

In Muskegon, life after delisting holds the promise of economic revitalization. With the conclusion of cleanup efforts on Muskegon Lake, the area has seen an increase in property values and tourism, illustrating the intrinsic connection between the community and its shoreline.

This has spurred enthusiasm in the community, which has struggled to overcome economic depression throughout its history and to establish itself as a tourist destination on the Lake Michigan shoreline.

While this enthusiasm and sense of accomplishment is important, after delisting, community leaders must grapple with the perception that their work is done.

The indicators of water health identified in the 1980s do not address issues such as climate change or invasive species, all of which amplified after the GLWQA was signed 50 years ago.

While the EPA recognizes these issues and their effect on the Great Lakes region, they are not part of the AOC program, said Al Steinman, director of the Annis Water Resources Institute in Muskegon, Michigan.

“Every AOC, I don’t care where you are, that’s already been delisted or will be delisted in the future still has ecological problems that need to be addressed,” Steinman said. “The key, then, is how do you communicate that to a community after it’s been delisted and you’ve had this huge celebration to get off the list?”

In Muskegon, PFAS contamination remains a major detriment to the health of the lake, along with the presence of harmful algal blooms.

Eric Kuhn, executive director of the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission, said that maintaining a relationship with local stakeholders and creating a long-term management plan is key to maintaining the restoration work and to future stewardship.

Muskegon has been fortunate, given the close proximity of the Commission, Grand Valley State University’s Annis Water Resources Institute, Muskegon Lake Watershed Partnership and NOAA’s Lake Michigan field station. There are natural opportunities for partnerships in the area, Kuhn said.

“Having those strong partnerships really made us be able to accomplish [restoration efforts] faster,” Kuhn said.

“It’s their community’s future, and it’s ultimately their responsibility when the state and federal funding is shifted to other areas,” said Collin Knauss, who serves as the project development manager for the Great Lakes Protection Fund.

The ‘Great Northern Diver’ – Common Loon Sightings Becoming Increasingly Rare in the Great Lakes Region

by Scott Brown
MWA e-Newsletter Editor

Prompting the return of a flood of fond memories of northern pike and walleye fishing with my son and grandson while on fly-in fishing trips to northern Ontario’s Shabuskwia Lake, the other worldly sound of a loon’s call has always held special meaning for this ageing baby boomer.  Although I have not visited this gorgeous wilderness lake in many years, my son and wildlife biologist grandson tell me that loon sightings even in the far north have become increasingly rare.

Although there are five species of loon in North America – all member of the Family Gaviidae, including Red-throated Loon, Pacific Loon, Yellow-billed Loon, and Arctic Loon, the most abundant is the Common Loon (scientific name: Gavia immer). The International Union for the Conservation of Nature reports that the majority of the approximately 640,000 common loons that remain on earth are found in Canada.

Though they are awkward on land due to the fact their legs are placed far back on their bodies, common loons have evolved as water birds that venture onto shore only to mate and incubate eggs, and learn how to dive long before they learn how to fly. Though the name loon derives from their goofy, awkward walk, they are often referred to as ‘great northern divers’. Capable of staying submerged for up to five minutes as they forage for fish and aquatic insects, loons are particularly well adept at hunting underwater due to their solid bones that make them less buoyant, their capacity to rapidly expel air from their lungs, and their ability to flatten their feathers in order to expel air from their plumage. The capacity to stay submerged for long periods is also enabled by their extraordinary physiological capacity to slow their heart rate while diving in order to conserve oxygen. The red eyes of loons have also evolved to allow them to detect fish and other prey in the low light conditions that are often present in water depths of up to fifteen feet. Empowered by their capacity to rapidly descend and to swim at an extraordinary fast pace while underwater, loons are considered highly effective hunters that are capable of consuming a large quantity of small fish in relatively short order. Biologists familiar with the unique bird species have estimated that a single set of loon parents and their two chicks are capable of eating a half ton of fish in a single fifteen-week season. Due to their reliance upon diving to depths of up to fifteen feet to forage for food, loons prefer healthy inland lakes hosting relatively clear water and healthy fisheries. Loons are known to shy away from inland lakes suffering from poor water clarity. Frequent loon sightings in a particular region are considered a reliable indicator of the presence of large, healthy inland lakes hosting abundant fish populations, relatively clear waters, and the existence of undisturbed natural shorelines.

Graced with relatively small wings in comparison to their size and weight, loons are attracted to large lakes that provide them with an opportunity to takeoff into the wind and skitter across the water’s surface for a long distance before creating enough aerodynamic lift to eventually become airborne. Once airborne, however, common loons are capable of flying at speeds of up to 70 miles per hour. It is interesting to note that their need for long, water-based take off ‘runways’ has caused migrating common loons to become stranded as they sometimes mistake wet highways and parking lots as rivers and lakes.

Due to their relatively large bodies, small wings, and the fact that their fast flight requires a lot of energy that must be replenished along the way, common loons are considered a medium-distance migrants. The common loons of the northern United States and Canada migrate from lakes to the coastal oceanic waters of the Pacific or Atlantic. The loons of western Canada and Alaska migrate to the Pacific Coast ranging from Alaska’s Aleutian Islands to Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. Great Lakes region common loons migrate to the Gulf of Mexico or Florida coasts. Common loons that inhabit the lakes of eastern Canada migrate to the North Atlantic Coast.

Sharp declines in the abundance of all five loon species in North America have thus far been primarily attributed to the loss of critical habitat caused by steadily increasing rates of near shore residential development that has been occurring on thousands of larger northern temperate inland lakes located in the United States and Canada. Intensive lakefront development facilitated loss of optimal loon habitat and a commensurate loss of preferred nesting and rearing habitat is one of the primary reasons that loon populations have experienced a steady decline over the course of the past fifty years.  Ecologists familiar with the decline of loon populations in North America also indicate that multiple stressors including the not yet well understood influences of climate change, diminished fish populations, acidification of inland lakes, and the loss of eggs and chicks to an increasing number of scavenging predators have also contributed to the decline of loons. It is important to point out that common loon populations in the Laurentian Great Lakes region have also experienced decline due to the onset of increasingly frequent outbreaks of  Type-E botulism that has caused massive annual die-offs of common loons, and other fish-eating birds in the past twenty five years.

Hundreds of Thousands of Failing Septic Systems Contribute to an Ongoing Major Public Health Issue in Michigan

Groundwater, and the Waters of our Fragile Lakes, Rivers, and Streams

are Subject to Contamination by Failing Residential Septic Systems

by Scott Brown

MWA E- Newsletter Editor

Attributed to the fact that Michigan continues to be the only state within the United States of America that has not yet enacted a state-wide law requiring regular septic system inspections, and to the fact that only eleven out of eighty three, or 13% of counties in Michigan have enacted local regulations that require regular septic system inspections, hundreds of thousands of failing septic systems continue to be a major source of e-coli and human fecal bacteria laden raw sewage that contaminates ground water, and renders the waters of many our lakes, rivers, and streams unfit for total contact water sports such as swimming or snorkeling. The steadily escalating environmental and public health associated problem is derived from that fact that approximately 20%, or 280,000, of the 1.4 million septic tanks that were constructed in the 1950’s and 1960’s throughout Michigan are now failing. The problem has also been exacerbated by the fact that many Michigan homes, and their now severely antiquated septic systems were built prior to the construction of sewer systems that now serve even the smallest of towns and villages.

Septic systems, otherwise known as on-site waste water disposal systems, are designed and installed in order to manage and treat the waste generated by toilets before it reaches ground water. In a properly designed septic system, the septic tank serves to remove larger solids from wastewater. Wastewater that flows out of the septic tank is saturated with contaminants that must be removed before the water can safely be combined with surface and/or groundwater. Public health issues stem from the fact that septic tank effluent contains large concentrations of toxic micro-organisms that are capable of making people sick. Moreover, the organic matter present in wastewater effluent creates bad odors, and contains algae growth stimulating nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) that can have a negative impact on aquatic ecosystems. Properly designed septic systems include a disposal field comprised of a mixture of sand, silt, and clay that are often referred to as loamy soils that act to successfully treat bacterial and inorganic compounds. Phosphorus that is produced within the household that passes through the septic tank is also captured within a properly designed disposal field’s soil.

On-site waste water disposal systems continue to be installed in support of residential and commercial development that occurs in rural settings where sanitary sewer systems are not available. According to Michigan State University Extension, when an on-site waste water disposal system is correctly located, properly designed, carefully installed, and properly maintained, they are capable of serving as effective waste disposal systems that are economical and that do not pose a threat to public health or to the fragile ecosystems of surrounding streams, rivers, and lakes.


Michigan’s on-going failing septic system crisis is best exemplified by Kent County where a volunteer only septic system inspection program allows an estimated 11, 250 failing residential septic systems distributed throughout the county to leak approximately one million gallons of raw sewage into vulnerable groundwater supplies each day. In inland lake inundated Oakland County, as another prime example, where public health threatening cases of e-coli contamination of rivers and lakes are reported on a more and more frequent basis, and where county officials have also yet to establish a program that would mandate regular septic system inspections, approximately twenty-five to thirty percent of the 100,000 septic systems located in Michigan’s most affluent county are known to be leaking. The gravity of the situation is also effectively illustrated by the fact that the results of a 2015 study conducted by Michigan State University researchers on sixty-four Michigan rivers revealed that concentrations of e-coli that were higher than U. S. Environmental Protection Agency permitted water quality standards. The significance of the issue is also amplified by the fact that the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lake, and Energy (EGLE) reports that approximately one half of Michigan’s thousands of miles of rivers and streams suffer from concentrations of toxic e-coli that exceed minimum water quality standards. 


Representing a major environmental and public health issue that promises to escalate in significance as increasing numbers of septic systems fail and begin to leak with the passage of time, past efforts to enact legislation that would have established a meaningful statewide standard for how septic tanks are designed, built, inspected, and maintained have sadly disintegrated in the face of arguments suggesting that in addition to treading on individual property rights, regulating septic tanks in a manner that would require regular inspections and maintenance would be too costly for homeowners, over burden local health departments, and make it more difficult to sell homes.


It is important to note, however, that Michigan Governor Whitmer recognized the significance of the on-going problem and declared the week of September 20-24, 2021 as Septic Smart Week that encouraged homeowners and communities to properly maintain their increasingly vulnerable septic systems. In addition, Governor Whitmer and Senator Jon Bumstead proposed dedicating $35 million of the 2022 state budget to enable the establishment and funding of an EGLE administered program that would make low interest loans available to homeowners seeking to repair, replace, or eliminate leaking residential septic systems.

The latest attempt at passing legislation that would require septic tank inspections was introduced as House Bill 6101 on May 17, 2022 by Representatives Yaroch and Rendon, and was referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation. Known as the “septic tank inspection at time of sale act”, due to an upcoming election, and perceived wide spread opposition to the legislation, neither the Michigan House of Representative or the Michigan Senate took any sort of action on the bill. Only time will tell if Governor Whitmer and the leadership of both houses of the Michigan legislature will pursue a viable solution to an on-going environmental crisis by enacting a state law requiring property owners to inspect and maintain their septic systems on a regular basis. 

For more information on how failing septic systems are capable of degrading our precious freshwater resources, visit the U. S. EPA’s web page entitled “How Your Septic System Can Impact Nearby Water Sources” . The always wise, inland lakes preservation focused folks from northwest Lower Michigan’s Glen Lake Association have also created a septic smart webpage that contains valuable information regarding the proper maintenance of septic systems. 

Great Lakes Region State Governments Confronted with a Significant Challenge in Working to Mitigate an Increasingly Widespread PFAS Contamination Problem

by Scott Brown, MWA E-Newsletter Editor and Board Director

Electronic and print media news articles focused on the harmful environmental impacts and enhanced risks to human health associated with a large group of odorless, invisible toxic chemicals referred to as PFAS seem to appear almost every day. Present in soil, sediment, groundwater, wastewater, food, drinking water, and within the waters of our lakes and streams, per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large group of man-made chemicals that include both perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) that were initially developed by Dupont in the 1940’s. Widely utilized by manufacturers, a few commonly occurring examples of products containing large concentrations of PFAS include firefighting foam, and a wide array of popular consumer products. These include, to cite just a few examples, heat-resistant non-stick cooking surfaces such as Teflon cooking pans, water proofing and fabric protection products, cosmetics, shaving cream, nail polish, food wrappers, takeout containers, carpet, leather, and pet food bags. It is also important to point out that PFAS are sometimes referred to as “forever chemicals” due to the fact that they tend to accumulate over time in the human body and do not break down easily due to their long half-life.

Even in relatively low concentrations, exposure to the vast suite of chemicals known as PFAS has been directly linked to significant increases in the risk of acquiring certain forms of cancer, or of suffering from reproductive and developmental problems, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, or ulcerative colitis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 95% percent of the citizens of the United States currently have PFAS in their bodies. Moreover, due to the fact that PFAS is now so prevalent in groundwater, soil, and livestock feed, it is also regularly detected in blood samples extracted from milk cows, cattle, sheep, hogs, and other widely consumed sources of meat such as chicken and turkey. Of particular concern to the State of Michigan, and other states including Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York that each have coastlines on Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, however, are the relatively large concentrations of PFAS that are being detected in samples of freshwater fish.

The just released results of a new study conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organization dedicated to creating a healthier environment, strongly suggests that PFAS contamination of freshwater fish maybe of special concern to people who depend upon fishing out of economic necessity in the Detroit River, or within other heavily urbanized areas that exist on coast of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario where fish tissue samples detected higher than average levels of PFAS contamination. The study indicated that “widespread PFAS contamination of freshwater fish in surface waters in the U.S. is likely a significant source of exposure to PFOS and potentially other perfluorinated compounds for all persons who consume freshwater fish, but especially for high frequency freshwater fish consumers.”  National testing of fish tissue completed by the United States Environment Protection Agency shows that while nearly all fish present in the rivers and streams of United States possess detectable levels of PFAS, the Great Lakes, and in particular certain areas of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, are now known to host fish with the highest concentrations of PFAS in the nation. The Environmental Working Group study also suggests that due to the fact that self-caught fish are an important source of subsistence for many individuals living in heavily urbanized areas, fish consumption targeted PFAS advisories are likely to disproportionately affect people who are not likely to be able to afford to replace self-caught fish with commercial fishery sourced fish purchased from their local grocery store. The authors of the EWG study also provides a cautionary note which suggested that consuming a single serving of yellow perch caught in certain areas of Lake Erie, for example, equates to drinking a thirty-day supply of PFAS tainted water. The EWG sanctioned study, entitled “Locally caught freshwater fish across the United States are likely a significant source of exposure to PFOS and other perfluorinated compounds” appeared in the January 2023 edition of the scientific publication entitled Environmental Research.

Providing a seemingly unlimited supply of high-quality freshwater and a viable means of navigating to the outside world via the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Laurentian Great Lakes region has served over the course of last century as the North American base for the automotive, steel, petroleum, and chemical industries, and is therefore particularly vulnerable to the human health and environmental impacts that have thus far been associated with PFAS. Even though PFAS is present in nearly every state, a review of the map which appear below indicates that Great Lakes region states, and particularly Michigan, possess an inordinate number of sites hosting high concentrations of PFAS.  As the map clearly suggests, states bordering the Great Lakes each face a significant economic, environmental, social, and logistical challenge in seeking to contain and prevent further contamination of immensely valuable freshwater ecosystems by the harmful chemicals.

In response to widespread PFAS contamination, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services encourages people to follow the Eat Safe Fish Guides.  The annually updated guidelines provide readers with a detailed breakdown based on fish species, where it was caught, and which pollutant is the problem. The State of Michigan has also created a PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) which is approaching the increasingly widespread PFAS problem with a “unique, multi-agency proactive approach” for coordinating state resources that are being dedicated to addressing the complex problem. The State of Michigan also suggests that those who are especially concerned about their exposure to PFAS can visit the state’s Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) page for valuable resources and information on areas of the state where water is being tested and where sources of acute contamination are monitored and investigated. Information from MPART on health concerns can be found on their webpage