Steps taken to improve Whitney Drain E. coli spikes
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WHITNEY TWP. — A landowner linked to E. coli spikes in the Whitney Drain has begun improvements to his property in an effort to improve the water quality of the drain.
Mike Snyder, chairman of the Arenac County Board of Commissioners, said the landowner, whose name was not given, cemented and closed off tubes that ran from a septic tank to a ditch connected to the Whitney Drain, and has begun to divert a trench draining into the same ditch from a barn where animals are housed.
“(The owner) has shut off the sewage flow and diverted the flow of agricultural waste into another area,” he said. “This person knows the damage they have caused and is taking the necessary steps to improve the situation,” he added.
Snyder said the tubes were closed off on Tuesday, July 19, and construction has begun on a raised septic system on the property, a goat farm located on Noble Road in Turner Township.
Snyder said in May that the Department of Agriculture (DOA) approved the practices performed by the landowner on Sept. 14, 2010 through its Right to Farm ACT. He said it is not known what will be done with the runoff from the farm.
According to the DOA website, the Michigan Right to Farm Act was enacted in 1981 to provide farmers with protection from nuisance lawsuits. This state statute authorizes the Michigan Commission of Agriculture to develop and adopt generally accepted agricultural and management practices for farms and farm operations in Michigan. These voluntary practices are based on available technology and scientific research to promote sound environmental stewardship and help maintain a farmer's right to farm.
The owner was confronted in June, after samples taken from the ditch in front of his home during a rain event tested at 2,400 E. coli particles per 100 milliliters.
“That is nearly raw sewage,” he said.
Snyder said further testing will be performed during the next rainfall to see what the E. coli levels are in the ditch now that the septic tank has been sealed off.
“We don’t know for sure if the immediate flow from the substances in the septic tank caused the high E. coli spikes, or if there was something coming from the bottom of the ditch are causing the high spikes,” he said. “That is something we need to know before we move forward.”
In June, Snyder said the ditch might also need to be cleaned out. He said that though the property in question may be a major cause of E. coli spikes in the drain, there could be other causes as well.
“Testing of the ditch will show us what our next step is,” he said.
Snyder said that he wants the beaches near the mouth of the drain open as soon as possible, but testing needs to be done.
“I want (them) to be open immediately,” he said. “I also know that we need to collect all of the scientific data we can for legal reasons and safety reasons.”