On Oct. 22, Manistee County commissioners will vote on Kalkaska’s recent bid to remove their septic pollution regulations. Such changes must be approved by all counties of the same health district. So there is still hope that we can arrive at common sense water protection for all.

In the Great Lakes state, we all value clean water. Yet Michigan is the only state without a statewide sanitary code that requires periodic inspection and maintenance of home sewage systems. Kalkaska County commissioners recently voted to rescind 11 years of point-of-sale septic inspections there, at the urging of local realtors despite an outpouring of citizen support to keep the rules in place.

Up to 90 percent of rural northern Michigan properties depend on septic, but only 11 of Michigan’s 80 counties have a septic code. Our groundwater is being contaminated when effluent from compromised septic systems seeps out undetected. An estimated 130,000 septic systems are failing in Michigan. All of Michigan’s groundwater is interconnected and feeds our lakes — not just shoreline property.

High E. coli levels caused closure of two Traverse City beaches and Suttons Bay Marina this summer. Grand Traverse County is attempting to reduce E. coli impact on our lakes by introducing storm water restrictions. But no one talks about Michigan’s lack of a septic code in relation to these concerns.

The Center for Public Integrity ranked Michigan 50th in government transparency. Michigan’s elected leaders can be influenced by corporate interests yet are not subject to scrutiny under the Freedom of Information Act like other states. This reality has contributed to water problems like the Flint water crisis, Nestle bottling our water for profit, Line 5 in our Straits, lack of septic regulation and more.

Everyone stands to gain from having clean water: home buyers, sellers, neighbors and businesses. In Health District 10, only Manistee and Kalkaska counties have had point-of-sale septic inspections. Manistee is upholding these septic protections. Their recent efforts show what an all-inclusive model of water stewardship can accomplish. By bringing everyone to the table (environmentalists, property owners, realtors and other businesses) to draft and tweak septic inspection requirements together, consensus was reached. Manistee septic inspection findings will now be good for three years instead of two, which relieves many home seller concerns.

A statewide sanitary code for septic is desperately needed in Michigan, but until that happens, we must act locally. Leelanau County citizens have been trying for years to adopt septic standards, like their health department counterpart Benzie where septic improvements have been documented. A Freshwater Summit on Oct. 25 and a Septic Summit on Nov. 6 are open to the public at the Hagerty Center in Traverse City.

Please support Manistee commissioners in their stand for clean water at the 9 a.m. meeting there on Oct. 22. A bill addressing septic regulation is expected this fall at the state level. Gov. Whitmer needs our support and so do our local commissioners in order to protect Michigan water from this major source of pollution.

About the author: Barbara Stamiris is retired educator and environmental activist. She was an intervenor in federal hearings for the Midland nuclear plant. In 1983 she testified before Congress about safety issues at the Midland plant, which never opened. She is a member of Leelanau League of Women Voters, FLOW and Oil & Water Don’t Mix. She received the NMEAC Environmentalist of the Year Award in the volunteer category in 2019.

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