Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash paid a visit to the Addison Township Public Library on June 4 to chat with the public about a variety of issues.
One of them was the nation’s aging water, sewer and stormwater infrastructure.
“It’s way past its life expectancy and we have to start investing in this stuff,” Nash said.
When this infrastructure was constructed in the 1930s and 1940s, the average life expectancy of it was 50 years.
Today, much of it is still in use because, according to Nash, “we quit investing federally in infrastructure back in the late 1980s/early 1990s.”
He cited Pontiac as an example.
“Seventy-five percent of their infrastructure – water and sewer – is between 80 and 120 years old,” Nash said.
In order to “fix” things on a national level and bring everything up to snuff, Nash said, “right now, it would take about $82 billion a year.”
Although the county Health Division regulates individual septic systems, Nash touched on the subject because when they fail, they can impact everything from county drains to local lakes.
According to him, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (formerly the Department of Environmental Quality), estimated “that between 15 and 20 percent of all septic systems in the state are failing.”
Nash explained “the normal life cycle” of a septic field is 40 or 50 years.
“Any more than that and you’re starting to have significant problems,” he said.
Unless another conventional septic system can be successfully installed elsewhere on the site of a failed one, Nash said there are only two solutions and both of them are costly.
One is to install an engineered septic system. He said this can cost $40,000 to $50,000 and “there’s no real guarantee that it can last a significant amount of time.”
The alternative is to build a sewage system that collects and treats wastewater. According to Nash, a group of 25 homes on a lake had to do this and it cost them $40,000 each.
“We have to do something to start working on our septic fields . . . and that’s going to take a state program because a lot of folks aren’t going to be able to afford (the options),” Nash said.
He noted that Michigan is “the only state in the whole country that doesn’t have a statewide septic (program) . . . and we’re the one surrounded by the Great Lakes.”
When it comes to potential threats to drinking water, Nash encouraged folks to bring their concerns to the attention of their state legislators and “don’t give up” until they get the answers they’re seeking and the action they desire.
“When they say, ‘Well, I’ll do what I can,’ you go back in a week (and ask), ‘What have you done?’” he said. “They will respond to that better than just a friendly request.”
Getting results and bringing about change takes people “not putting up with (the status quo) anymore” and “not letting it go,” Nash told the audience.
There’s also strength in numbers.
“Representatives, (when) they hear from a few people, they’ll say, ‘Hmm, that’s interesting.’ But, if they hear from a bunch of people over and over again, they’ll eventually turn,” Nash said.