MARQUETTE - The city of Marquette will receive a grant worth nearly $180,000 to attempt to improve water quality along the shoreline in the city's north.
The grant, which is a part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, will provide the city with $179,700 to "implement green management practices to reduce bacteriological, algal and chemical contamination that have been identified through the use of Great Lakes beach sanitary surveys," according to a Tuesday EPA release announcing the grant.
The city applied for the grant in conjunction with the Superior Watershed Partnership, and SWP Executive Director Carl Lindquist said the money will be used, in part, to create 1,000 feet of green infrastructure along a ditch that drains storm water into Lake Superior.
While the city of Marquette works with the Superior Watershed partnership to address high E. coli levels on north Marquette beaches, high bacteria levels have forced city officials to close Marquette's South Beach for the rest of the swimming season. (Journal file photo)
Through regular testing, the city has identified elevated levels of E. coli contamination where the ditch feeds into the lake, immediately east of Marquette's Lakeview Arena. Lindquist said the levels routinely test higher following heavy rain events, which increase storm water runoff.
"It's a direct connection," he said. "That plus the record warm temperatures of Lake Superior are two main factors. There are dozens of other factors ... that can influence it. But without a doubt, storm water runoff is the main concern."
The work, Lindquist said, will include a "combination of practices, including engineering and native plant restoration," and will result in a restored channel of native plants that will filter the storm water before it enters the lake.
Though the channel does not empty onto a beach, Curt Goodman, the head of the city's water/wastewater department, said the E. coli levels following a rain routinely test high enough to close a beach - 300 parts per 100 ml - under state regulations.
"What we found out is that if we go out and sample it (following a rain), we will definitely get beach closure E. coli counts," Goodman said. "However, we did two-hour intervals and we found out that after two to three hours, the dilution was enough to keep those levels down. But we know the pollutants are still there."
While there are many possible sources of pollution, Goodman guesses that one source is a larger problem than the others.
"I would say mostly animal waste," he said. "For instance, if you go down Third Street - any concrete, when it rains, all of that goes down the storm drains and it carries all that fecal matter, animal waste."
The grant represents the second phase of the GLRI grant program. In the first phase, Marquette received funding to increase the scope of the city's water quality monitoring program. The EPA's goal for the second phase, according to Goodman, was results.
"The purpose of this round of the GLRI is they wanted projects that do something," he said. "We've done a lot of monitoring and the EPA really wanted something done."
The GLRI grants and testing program are unrelated to a separate Michigan Department of Environmental Quality grant allowing Marquette to regularly test E. coli levels on city's beaches. Since 2000, Marquette has received about $5,000 annually for that beach testing.
Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.