‘Attacking our lifestyle’: Macomb County trying to get to bottom of muck problem

Lyngbya collecting along Lake St. Clair shoreline

Lyngbya at the DNR Spillway boat launch site in Harrison Township. (Macomb County Public Works)

HARRISON TOWNSHIP, Mich.Macomb County officials are trying to get to the bottom of a muck problem that’s “attacking our lifestyle” along the Lake St. Clair shoreline.

County officials said they have partnered with the United States Army Corps of Engineers to determine whether the muck problem poses health risks and identify how it grows in the lake.

What is Lyngbya?

The muck, scientifically named “Lyngbya,” grows in the lake before breaking away to form dense, free-floating mats that cling to the shoreline, canals, boat wells, and beaches, according to authorities.

The mats increase in density as new layers are created when they are blown by wind to the shoreline during winter and early spring.

Officials said hiring a contractor with dredging experience to remove and dispose of the muck can be expensive, and the remedy is often short-lived. The muck tends to return to pockets along the shoreline, collecting very quickly, according to county officials.

‘Lyngbya is attacking our lifestyle’

“We need to understand what is causing it, what its makeup is, and are there preventive steps and maintenance steps to eradicate it or to maintain and live with it?” Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller said. “Something has changed in the lake’s ecosystem in the last 10 years. Is it because of zebra mussels, combined sewer overflows, climate change?”

Miller is part of the drainage board that approved the grant agreement with the USACE. Each year of the two-year study is expected to cost $200,000. The cost will be split evenly between the USACE and Macomb County.

The county’s funding share was approved unanimously by the Board of Commissioners.

“Lyngbya is attacking our lifestyle, and property values, and is dangerous,” said County Commissioner Barbara Zinner, of Harrison Township. “We do not know if it is a health risk, but this is of great concern. I am looking forward to this study so we will know what it is and be able to rid ourselves of it for the welfare of the public.”

Zinner said property owners along the lake have noticed boat wells choked off by the algae.

The Michigan DRN Spillway boat launch in Harrison Township is completing a multi-million-dollar upgrade after Lyngbya choked off the boat launch area for many years, officials said. The cost and effort of dredging out the muck shortened the seasonal availability of the boat launch and became cost prohibitive, according to authorities.

Study details

Officials said the study will involve the following steps:

  • Field sampling of Lyngbya.
  • Identifying Lyngbya hotspots and conditions that drive its spread.
  • Collaboration with researchers to develop knowledge and practices to better understand the ecological and human health risks.
  • Creation of a management plan to better understand, predict, react to, and manage Lyngbya on the lake.

“Macomb County is always focused on how we can improve our water quality in Lake St. Clair,” Miller said. “We look forward to the results of this study, so we can develop an action plan in dealing with this noxious muck.”

Officials are worried that E. coli or other bacteria collected in the mats could also pose a public health threat.

Lyngbya at the DNR Spillway boat launch site in Harrison Township. (Macomb County Public Works)
Lyngbya at the DNR Spillway boat launch site in Harrison Township. (Macomb County Public Works)
Lyngbya at the DNR Spillway boat launch site in Harrison Township. (Macomb County Public Works)

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Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.