Sewage overflow causes unsafe levels of E. coli in lake

REMUS — Overflow from a sanitary sewage system caused unsafe levels of the bacteria Escherichia coli in a lake south of Remus.

At approximately 10 a.m. on Monday, public works crews became aware of a sanitary sewage leak involving an overflow pipe from the lift station discharging raw wastewater into a drainage ditch. This overflow discharge flowed from the ditch into Pine Lake.

Upon discovering the overflow, public works crews were mobilized and were able to stop the flow by 10:15 a.m. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality was notified of the situation.

The contaminated lake is a private lake which only one family has access to and they were made aware of the situation and the unsafe levels of E. coli in the water.

Tom Reichard, the director of environmental health with the District Health Department No. 10, said samples from the lake were collected to have the water quality tested by the Big Rapids Wastewater Treatment Plant on Monday. The test results provided to Wheatland Township Wastewater Treatment Plant Superintendent Kevin Thiel on Tuesday afternoon revealed unsafe levels of E. coli in the lake due to the overflow.

According to Reichard, the levels of E. coli in the river flowing into and out of Pine Lake are not of concern at this time because of the size of the lake, but if water quality tests from the lake in the next day still indicate high levels of E. coli, they may take samples from the river to check for high levels of E. coli there as well.

Reichard explained in order for water to be safe for people there must be less than 300 E. coli per 100 milliliters of water. He said the water samples collected from Pine Lake revealed E. coli levels were above the safe contact level.

He added the health department will be posting signs around the lake advising people to avoid contact with the water.

Reichard said the health department has procedures to try to lower the E. coli levels in the lake and they will be testing the water every day until the levels fall below the maximum allowable level of E. coli for the water to be safe for contact.

“(The overflow) was caused by larger than normal flow to the lift station,” Thiel said, noting it currently is unknown exactly how the failure took place, but wastewater officials are in the process of determining what happened. He added he spoke with the three largest users of water in the area, a school, laundromat and a factory, and none reported higher than normal usage.

Thiel said it is unknown at this time how much sewage was discharged from the sanitary sewer system into the lake. However, early estimates indicated it could be as much as 200,000 gallons, based on daily flows to the lift station.

As more information becomes available, updated reports will follow.

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