Manistique's Combined Sewage
Overflow into the Manistique River

A number of years ago, when Manistique had rainfall days at a time and Spring thaws that caused local flooding, it was quite common for the overloaded sewer system to discharge untreated waste into the Manistique River. The discharge was through several combined sewage overflows, CSOs. There is one operational CSO remaining, a 36 inch diameter concrete pipe that empties into the east side of the Manistique River at the southwest corner of the marina. The Michigan DNR made it known that Manistique must separate its storm water runoff from its untreated sewage and bring an end to the illegal discharges.

NOTE: As a result of a 05/02/02 Pioneer Tribune article, I became aware that the discharges from the operational CSO are legal, if reported. The pictured CSO has a state permit that buy's the City the time to repair or renovate the east side sewer system that overflows through this CSO. The requirement for a functional, and permitted, CSO still belies statements from public officials that "all is well".

CSO with "normal" infusion evident
Over the intervening years, significant storm water and sewage separation was achieved as a result of several sewer upgrade projects, and other projects designed to alleviate the problem. Those projects placed Manistique ahead of the Michigan DEQ's requirements. Not losing sight of the goal to eliminate the CSO problem, several past city council persons pushed for and finally achieved, after much delay, a "smoke" test of the downtown sewer system. The smoke test helped determine what facilities were discharging rain and snow melt into the downtown municipal sewers instead of dedicated runoff facilities.

For several years, local concern has been subdued. The weather has been less severe, past sewer improvements have kept the regulatory agencies at bay, and Manistique has been swept up in the "good times". Well, it might be time for a reality check.

In the September 3, 2000 edition of the Detroit Free press was an article that suggested new interest in the CSO might be due. Titled Amnesty ends for municipal polluters, it opens with this sentence:"The amnesty period is over for communities that knowingly pollute rivers, streams and lakes with untreated sewage. Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials vow that communities found to have illegally discharged untreated sewage and storm water into local waterways will face fines as heavy as $25,000 per day."

Maybe it is time for the Manistique city administration and the DDA to take a look at the problem, as necessary, or issue a public proclamation that all is well into the foreseeable future and further action is not required.


At the Manistique City Council meeting of 09/11/00, Randy Sanville, supervisor of the city wastewater treatment plant, and City Manager, Allen Housler, assured council and the public that the city's responsibilities concerning the CSO were met. It was Mr. Sanville's opinion that past sewer separation, upgrade and sewer plant redesign should meet the demands of typical seasonal weather events. It was his opinion, and that of Mr. Housler, that further storm water and sewage separation work could not be justified in the near term due to the possibility of shifting MDEQ regulations, the fact that Manistique has met its obligations to the MDEQ through the year 2005, and the current upgraded system is working well.

Both men are happy with the ability of the Manistique sewage system to handle the current load of combined sewage and runoff, within the context of current weather events and customer loading. The city council was assured that consideration of runoff water and sewage separation requirements is a part of the engineering requirements for city infrastructure renewal projects. No comment was made regarding the past council concerns of down town runoff into the recently renovated downtown sewer system.


It is possible that the low risk of a $25,000 a day fine, for the consequence of a short term weather event, is a preferable alternative to the political grief and financial consequences of basement sewage flooding damage from backed up sewers. A functional CSO may be a desirable "safety valve" option that no public official or insurance company wishes to voice.


Photographs of a CSO overflow of 04/24/02 provides the basis for this update along with a news article published in the 05/02/02 edition of the Pioneer Tribune. That news article provided me the basis for more insight, concerning the condition of Manistique's sewer system, than any public meeting I attended in 12 years, or my short stint as councilman.
The general deterioration of the City's old sewers has been known to the general public for decades. Residents are reminded, to a degree, of the extent of that deterioration and its impact on the community, every time they get their combined water and sewer bills. I know I curse, under my breath, every time I read my bills and think about how small, similar bills were, in other communities I have lived.

After I got past the self congratulatory and "damage control" quotes, regarding the sewage overflow into the Manistique River and low lying areas south of US-2, the implication of some of the numbers, in the Trib's article, became evident.

1. The rain event was referred to as " event that dumped nearly four inches of rain on the city in a matter of a few hours." and the "...precise rainfall total was 3.86 inches."

As one who paid close attention to the weather that day, I witnessed the rain start about 10:30am and continue through late evening to turn to flurries around 10pm.

The N.O.A.A. weather instruments, located near the US-2 sewage lift pump station and at the Schoolcraft County Airport, reported 2.53 inches of precipitation over a 24 hour period for a rain event, of varying intensity, that spanned a continuous 10 hour period.

The rain might have dumped nearly four inches of rain in a matter of a few hours at the sewer plant, but not at my house, and, it appears, not at the lift station on US-2 and not at the airport.

What the reported weather informatiom means, relative to the sewer problems, is important, as is the accuracy of the N.O.A.A. weather reporting instrumentation, used for everything from determining aviation weather forcasts, to updating historical weather data bases.

2. Water/Wastewater Supervisor, Randy Sanville, was quoted "Our average daily flow is about one-and-a-half million gallons." and, later, he said the wastewater treatment plant was still seeing a flow rate of 2.9 million gallons a day, almost a week after the "storm".

That means, for the particular day considered, the sewer plant was processing, at least, twice as much effluent as people were producing, when no other significant rainfall was adding runoff (inflow) to the sewage flow.

That implies a large quantity of water is entering the sewer system from other than typical sewage sources, by means that I can guess, but cannot prove.

That implies, that long after the runoff had been treated and pumped into the river, the wastewater treatment plant was processing two to three times more effluent than was coming from domestic or commercial sources... At what cost?

Regardless whether the average daily flow is averaged over a year, a month or a week, the average is markedly higher than the low at the end of any particular dry period, when water inflow and intrusion, (I. and I.), is less likely to occur and when a more true sewage flow could be measured.

Without long term flow data, that provides documented historical context, the layman can still deduce that, at least, nearly half the effluent flow, one week after the rain event, consists of fluid other than typical domestic and commercial sewer waste.

3. 12 hours after the rain stopped, the refurbished sewer treatment plant, with all its 6 million gallon a day peak pumping capacity, could do little for the east side effluent flow rate. It is likely there is a "bottleneck" in the east side sewers that caused east side effluent to completely fill at least one section of a main sewer. I photographed raw sewage being pumped from manholes of certain east side sewers line(s), most likely as a consequence of a lift station sewage pump cycling on and off.

4. The CSO flow rate was inadequate to prevent certain east side sewers from overflowing or backing up. That leads me to conjecture that flooding swamp land through unsecured manholes might be a more politically acceptable option to flooding basements or fixing what is broken.

5. As a resident that paid attention to the evidence associated with a deteriorating city infrastructure, for approximately twelve years, I reached the conclusion, that, after reading the Pioneer Tribune article, I knew less than I should and I still know less than I should. I also concluded, it is likely that the majority of City Council knows less than me.

Maybe Manistique's water and sewer rates are not the highest in this region, but they are certainly exorbitant, compared to many other communities. I was never happy with the less than stellar accounting procedures that tracked the spending of those water and sewer revenues, and I am still suspicious that some of those revenues are used for purposes unrelated to water and wastewater related expenses.

I have little reason to believe that the current rate of accumulation of I. and I. funds, derived from water and sewer revenues, is close to what is required to rebuild most of Manistique's crippled sewer system. Maybe there will be enough "free" grant money to pay the difference. Maybe it will make little to no difference to those, alive today, that will die, move away, or retire, elsewhere.

Maybe the time has arrived, to have an open, public discussion of the sewer (and water?) system, to bring everyone up to date. Maybe a candid informational public meeting is long overdue. Maybe regulatory officials and the city's consulting engineers, with an historical knowledge of Manistique's problems should be included, to balance and minimize the impact of too much self serving damage control rhetoric from local officials that, as likely as not, will not be around to "pay the piper" for errors of judgment, accidental or otherwise.

Regardless of what some folk may know, or what has been done, or what should be done, I know of no coherent "master" plan to finance and replace the rest of Manistique's ailing sewer and water distribution lines. Does one exist?

Enter "state sewer bond" in "SEARCH" dialog box. Left click "GO" button. HOME
 © 2002-2003