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POLLUTION RISKS: MDEQ, County Eye 6,900 Kawkawlin Watershed Septic Systems

October 16, 2016       1 Comments
By: Dave Rogers

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The Kawkawlin drains over 144,000 acres and covers portions of four counties: Bay, Saginaw, Gladwin, and Midland.

Clean it up!

The Kawkawlin River watershed, that is.

This has been a concern for at least 40-50 years, since Prosecutor Marty Legatz, who was a Bangor Township and Kawkawlin riverfront resident, and Supervisor Harry Bacon, made such cleanup a political goal.

Before each election, Legatz would go to the shore of Saginaw Bay and would scoop up black muck for the photographers. Of course, there were many other reasons for the muck, but algae growing in the bay because of polluted runoff from failing septic systems certainly was one of them.

The Bay County Board of Commissioners has authorized the county health department to seek $150,000 in grant funds to identify and eliminate failing septic systems to control contamination in the Kawkawlin River Watershed.

Estimates are there are 6,900 septic systems; identifying and eliminating the approximately 36 percent that are failing due to age, soil structure or other causes.

The Kawkawlin drains over 144,000 acres and covers portions of four counties: Bay, Saginaw, Gladwin, and Midland. The river is formed by two tributaries: the North Branch that drains a heavily forested area in Gladwin and Midland Counties, and the South Branch that drains rural and suburban areas of Bay and Saginaw Counties. The two tributaries come together near the Village of Kawkawlin to form the Main Branch Kawkawlin River.

A survey done in 2013 indicated a substantial number of homeowners lacked sufficient knowledge of proper maintenance and care, including regular pumping and inspection of the systems.

The project proposes to 1) identify the homes most "at risk" in the watershed and 2) partner with these homeowners to inspect, provide one-time simple maintenance (i.e., pumping) of the system. Homeowners would then be educated on options, including replacement.

The 25 percent match for the grant program "will be derived from participating local homeowners," according to the resolution of the Ways and Means Committee, headed by Commissioner Kim Coonan.

The grant will be sought from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) Nonpoint Source Program.

The Kawkawlin River and Watershed is a unique and fragile resource that has experienced degradation over the last several decades, according to the MDEQ, that comments: "It is more dependent on storm water for its flow than any other river in Michigan. The 250 square mile watershed has seen increased development pressures and until the last decade, intensive agricultural practices and limited pollution control have contributed to the poor water quality and the physical condition of the stream."

Warnings against full body contact in the River have been issued by the Bay County Health Department due to high levels of E-coli. Portions of the river that reach a depth of eight or more feet in the spring, dry completely in the summer. In that respect, the Kawkawlin more resembles a man-made drain than a watercourse. There have been a number of studies done on the Kawkawlin over the years. This project has consolidated data and prioritized opportunities to better implement a restoration strategy.

Goals of a watershed planning project from 2008-2011 were:

* Improve warm-water fisheries and conditions

* Protect and improve habitat conditions for aquatic life and wildlife

* Determine causes and correction of sediment loading

* Identify and protect quality natural buffers including forests, floodplains, wetlands, riparian buffer and contiguous greenways

*Provide flood management

*Improve recreational opportunities

* Preserve rural character.

* Improve aesthetics


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sunbeamf Says:       On October 17, 2016 at 01:41 PM
Now that the density of homes along the Kawkawlin has increased it's time to get rid of ALL the septic systems before the river becomes totally unusable. Towns along the Lake Huron shore of the Thumb are going through this very thing right now. Meanwhile the septic fields flow into the river and lake and ruin a wonderful recreational resource.
Agree? or Disagree?

Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
(Contact Dave Via Email at

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