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septic tanks

One Michigan county tells the story of a nation plagued by water pollution

Sep 24, 2020
J. Carl Ganter / Circle of Blue

Farms housing thousands of animals are one of several sources contaminating the Pine River and dividing a mid-Michigan community.

Murray Borrello, wearing khakis and a loose-fitting brown button-up, walked down a backroad during the summer of 2019 listening to the sounds of the woods. Water from the Pine River flowed slowly beneath him as he looked out over a bridge.

“Oh, I hear a frog,” the Alma College geology and environmental studies professor said. “That’s a good sign.” 

Realtors and interest groups opposed to regulation are shaping septic system policies in Michigan's state and local politics.

Realtors don't like the idea of inspections tied to home sales. Anti-regulation lawmakers don't like the alternatives.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy indicates there are 1.4 million homes in Michigan that are not hooked up to a sewer system. Many use septic tank systems. But Molly Rippke, an aquatic biologist with the agency, says there’s a big problem. 

Flickr user Andy Rogers/Flickr / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

When you think about water pollution, you might think about massive sewer overflows, factory pollution or agricultural runoff. But there’s another source of water pollution that might be in your backyard: septic systems that have failed.

They pollute lakes and streams around the state – and in fact, around the country.

Sean Hammond, deputy policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council, is calling for better rules for septic systems and inspections.

“We are the only state in the country to not have a statewide septic code,” Hammond said.

Flickr user Andy Rogers / Flickr

If you’re eating right now, you might want to take a little break.

We’re going to take a moment to talk about fecal bacteria.

Researchers at Michigan State University have done some detective work on septic tanks in Michigan, and they’ve found these tanks are leaking bacteria.