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Water pollution in Michigan

Litter stuck on the rocks in the Grand River in Grand Rapids. (Alena Visnovsky/The Collegiate)

By James Herold 

Water pollution here in Michigan is a big issue. Especially when we live so close to a Great Lake no matter where we are. The Grand River in Grand Rapids and other cities stretching from Jackson to Grand Haven also encounter the issue of water pollution. 

Water is an important resource, we use it to bathe, take showers, brush our teeth, swim in, and use the toilet. Water doesn’t seem like a harmful resource until you see it filled with trash. This can get into the sewers and potentially into the sinks in our houses.

Melissa Schrauben, author for therapidian.org stated that “While the Grand River makes up 13% of the Lake Michigan watershed… (a watershed being a land area that channels rainfall and snowmelt to creeks, streams, and rivers, and eventually to outflow points such as reservoirs, bays, and oceans) it’s still the largest contributor to the lake’s pollution.” 

Contaminated drinking water can lead to increased costs of treatment and can be traced to adverse health effects. The issue comes from stormwater runoff which can carry water pollutants including road chemicals, oil, litter, and agricultural runoff including dirt, debris, and pesticides. Manure is dangerous, too. The ammonia in manure reduces the amount of dissolved oxygen, which harms aquatic animals. Furthermore, clouds of sediment caused by increased amounts of soil carried into the river can suffocate fish and deteriorate the quality of aquatic animal life. This isn’t a new problem for Grand Rapids. 

Ottawa County leaders have done a lot to address water pollution in Michigan. Matt Allen, the county’s Environment Health Supervisor stated, “People need to realize Lake Michigan is not a swimming pool.” It isn’t a chlorinated body of water. It is an open body of water that contains wildlife. The county urges swimmers to take precautions like showering and hand washing after swimming in the lake. 

The city of Grand Rapids has planted native vegetation and has built rain gardens to absorb rainwater to keep it out of the Grand River sewers. Each year the city and 10 other communities spend $6 to $8 million replacing worn out pipes and $600,000 to $1 million lining others with fiberglass. According to a Bridge Magazine article by Pat Shellenbarger in the past 15 years, the city spent $30 million upgrading its wastewater treatment plant. 

The city of Grand Rapids has a River Restoration Project in the making. Grand Rapids Whitewater’s slogan is “This Grand is your Grand.” Their plan is to recreate the rapids in the Grand River which were flattened by a sequence of longstanding dams. Restoring the rapids would promote recreational and fitness opportunities as well as enhance the sustainability of fish, wildlife, and natural resources. 

Grand Rapids officials and other community leaders have done a lot to address water pollution. They have spent millions of dollars to fix treatment plants and implement plans for a restoration project that will bring recreational and fitness activities to the Grand River. 

To help put an end to this issue, never throw trash in the river and always keep the area around your house clean because during rainfall and extreme flooding, trash can be swept into the river if you live nearby. Most of all, reduce, reuse, and recycle.

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