Raw waste leaks into Lake Superior; no notice given

COPPER HARBOR — About 400,000 gallons of raw, untreated wastewater was released from a Grant Township lagoon into the Lake Superior watershed earlier this month, the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) confirmed to the Daily Mining Gazette on Monday.

The incident occurred sometime between March 1, the most recent time the lagoon was checked, and March 5, when the contents of the lagoon were found to have been released, said Randy Conroy, district geologist with the DEQ.

The wastewater is believed to have gone under the lagoon, through soils and to the bedrock. Operators saw the bedrock seeping along the shoreline into Lake Superior, Conroy said.

Conroy said there appears to be no risk to the drinking water supply, which is taken from groundwater wells further to the south.

“It’s really the opposite direction of groundwater flow, which is predominantly south to north,” he said.

The township reported the incident to the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department as required, Conroy said. The department did not request sampling of the resource because contact with Lake Superior is limited before the summer recreation season, Conroy said.

“There’s no real risk of partial-body contact,” Conroy said.

Neither the Health Department nor Grant Township issued a specific public notice of the incident. Health Department officials referred requests for information to the DEQ. DEQ only confirmed the incident when contacted by the Daily Mining Gazette.

The township is working on getting funding to replace the lagoon liner, Conroy said.

With the ice cover and the wastewater being diluted by Lake Superior, Conroy saw little threat to the public.

For organisms already in that section of the lake, Conroy said the wastewater could lower oxygen levels.

“Of course, it’s a low-oxygen time of year, especially with ice cover,” he said. “I’d imagine most organisms are dormant or in a slow-moving state.”

There was little comment from any local officials Monday to the Daily Mining Gazette’s inquiries on the leak of an estimated 400,000 gallons of raw wastewater into the Lake Superior watershed.

Ken Stiger, Grant Township supervisor, was unavailable for comment at press time, and Tom Wersiak, of the township’s Water and Sewer Department, could not be reached.

Grant Township’s website has contains a post titled “General Public Notice,” under which is posted a Notification Regarding the Copper Harbor Waste Water Treatment Facility, and states the notice is “temporarily being updated,” and lists the date as March 23, 2018.

Don Piche, chairman of the Keweenaw County Board, said in a telephone interview that the county has received no official notice or word from Grant Township officials, but he is not really surprised, because the county has no control over the facility.

“That is their baby,” he said, adding that the township is the owner of the facility, and it the township’s responsibility.