LANSING - Several lakes across the state, including Deer Lake in western Marquette County have reached or are approaching important cleanup milestones and should be removed from the official list of "areas of concern" within four to five years, according to the Department of Environmental Quality.
Downstate, the Environmental Protection Agency already has eased restrictions - known as "beneficial use impairments" - on some inland bodies of water pertaining to fish consumption that allows anglers to fish those lakes with fewer constraints.
Recent studies by Grand Valley State University revealed that fish in Muskegon and White lakes don't have higher concentrations of PCBs or mercury than fish in lakes that weren't designated as "areas of concern." Both lakes remain subject to the same fish consumption advisories as other lakes in the area.
Deer Lake near the city of Ishpeming is seen in this warm weather photo (Journal file photo)
Beneficial use impairments are imposed if the chemical, physical or biological integrity of a Great Lakes ecosystem is degraded.
They were placed on Muskegon and White lakes because of pollutants discharged from industrial facilities in their watersheds, according to Stephanie Swart, the area of concern coordinator for Muskegon Lake in DEQ's Office of the Great Lakes.
"Essentially, it means that something is happening in the system such that we see an issue," Swart said. "In this case, the issue was fish consumption. People could not catch and eat the fish, and it had been like that for some time."
The U.S.-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement establishes 43 areas of concern across the Great Lakes region, 31 in the United States and the others in Ontario. All have experienced enough environmental degradation to threaten their ability to support aquatic life, so cleanup plans were developed for each site.
Others in Michigan are the Detroit River; River Raisin; Deer Lake; Clinton River; Kalamazoo River; Saginaw River and Bay; St. Clair River; Torch Lake; St. Mary's River; Manistique River and Rouge River.
Among them, officials expect to remove Deer Lake, near Ishpeming, from the list as early as next year. River Raisin, near Monroe, is also nearing its goals to be dropped from the list, although officials didn't give a more exact estimate of when that would happen.
The two areas previously removed from the list are Presque Isle Bay in Pennsylvania in February and the Oswego River in New York in 2006.
The lifting of restrictions on Muskegon and White lakes came after 15 years of cleanup at both sites. According to Swart, both lakes are on their way to being fully taken off the Michigan Areas of Concern list.
"White Lake should be removed in the next year or two," Swart said. "Muskegon is probably four to five years down the road yet."
Both lakes remain subject to several other beneficial use impairments that must be lifted before they can be dropped as areas of concern.
Muskegon Lake is still subject to beach closings, threats to fish and wildlife, degraded aesthetics and undesirable algae. White Lake also struggles with fish and wildlife problems and restrictions on drinking water, according to Swart.