Protecting inland lakes: Septic system maintenance, policies, and treatment options
From Renae Siler
The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) estimates that more than 10% of the state’s 1.3 million septic systems are in some state of failure. The current and future reality of onsite systems is that they are and will continue to be permanent solutions to wastewater treatment and are a long-term part of Michigan’s infrastructure. Importantly, these systems require careful maintenance in order to properly treat wastewater, especially in environmentally sensitive areas along inland lakes. Given the thousands of individuals living on or near inland lakes who rely on septic systems, the influence of shoreline soil type and water table level on potential septic system contaminants, and consideration of alternatives to conventional treatment systems are critical in minimizing negative impacts on both human and lake ecosystem health. Compounding these issues is Michigan’s changing climate. We are currently experiencing one of the state’s wettest weather periods, as evidenced by record-level water and extreme shoreline erosion along the Great Lakes. The resulting high surface water and groundwater levels have threatened the ability of on-site wastewater disposal systems to function properly, and have also impacted the safety of private drinking water wells as well. This panel-style session begins with a look at the septic system policies in watersheds located in Northwest Michigan, problems that were identified, and discussion of options local units of government can consider when deciding the best ways to protection of Michigan’s inland lakes. Next, alternative treatment system options will be discussed which are better suited for inland lakes. Finally, impacts of high surface water and groundwater on septic systems and best management practices that should be taken during flooding events will be discussed. Time will be scheduled for questions and answers to close out the session.
Presented by Grenetta Thomassey, Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council; Larry Stephens, Stephens Consulting Services, PC; and Regina Young, Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, as part of the 2020 Michigan Inland Lakes Convention.