Clean water is important to all of us!

Southwest Michigan is lucky to be situated along the beautiful Lake Michigan shore. The Great Lakes contain 20% of the fresh water in the world!

But this water is at risk due to contamination from failing and compromised septic and sewer systems from communities along the shoreline and upstream. And, when it rains heavily, waste can overflow into Lake Michigan. This waste contains bacteria and pathogens, such as E. coli; closed beaches are a result. Additionally, this contamination can enter the water table that provides water for our homes and local businesses used for activities such as drinking, washing, cooking, and bathing.

With this privilege comes responsibility to keep the waterways that flow into Lake Michigan clean, and the sewer infrastructure in good shape. The good news is that there is an initiative to help protect and improve our water.

Success relies on the commitment and involvement of local residents, businesses, and government officials.

Southwest Michigan’s stormwater and wastewater systems were built 50 to 100 years ago and are in desperate need of repairs and upgrades.

How E. coli Gets in our Water

Click Each Image To Reveal The Story

Communities along the lakeshore and further upstream can have a direct impact on water quality.
In Southwest Michigan we live in an area that drains directly into Lake Michigan.
A watershed divide is the naturally occurring line where water drains to different areas.
Most infrastructure is in need of repair and proactive maintenance. Our water is at risk!
Wastewater from our homes can make it into streams and out to Lake Michigan.
This waste contains E. coli bacteria! It is measured to decide when the water is safe for recreation.
When E. coli levels are high the beaches must close!
Residents and tourists alike enjoy our Lake Michigan beaches. We need to take steps to protect our water.
beach closed sign warning of bacteria
E. coli is an invisible bacteria that is measured to decide when the water is safe for recreation. When there are high levels of E. coli the beaches must close!
girl playing in safe beach water
The good news is there are solutions to Michigan’s infrastructure problems.
We can work together to support innovative policies, increase state funding, prioritize public health and safety, and be informed and vocal advocates for infrastructure repair and maintenance.

Why do beaches along the lakeshore close when the water looks fine?

Because, when it rains heavily, waste can overflow from compromised septic and municipal sewer systems bringing bacteria and pathogens into the waterways and eventually Lake Michigan.

The cause is failing septic and sewer systems.

Stormwater & Wastewater Systems Need Repair and Replacement

Together, properly maintained stormwater and wastewater systems keep our water and communities safe. Stormwater systems prevent flooding of Michigan roads and highways, neighborhoods, basements, and entire communities. Wastewater systems (septics and municipal sewer) keep raw sewage and other pollutants from contaminating Michigan streams, rivers, and lakes.

Municipal wastewater systems are intricate mazes of underground pipes and pump stations that collect and transport wastewater from our bathroom sinks, showers, tubs and toilets, from laundry facilities and kitchen sinks to community wastewater treatment plants. When pipes and pump stations are broken or failing, waste can make its way into waterways, inland lakes, and ultimately Lake Michigan.

Many of Michigan’s stormwater and wastewater systems were built 50 to 100 years ago and are in desperate need of repairs and upgrades. Michigan needs to invest more than $2.14 billion to fix and update stormwater and wastewater management infrastructure across the state, according to estimates by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

  • Michigan is the only state without a statewide sanitary septic code.
  • More than 1.3 million Michigan households and businesses use septic systems, a higher rate than the national average.
  • In Michigan, one in three households use septic systems, compared to one in five of US households; and the number of systems in the state is growing, with half of new homes on septic tanks.
  • State officials estimate that 10% of those (130,000) have failed and are polluting the environment; however, the problem may be far worse. Several counties that require septic tank inspections during real estate transactions have reported a septic system failure rate of 20-25%.
  • A Michigan State University study found that septic systems were the primary contributor to elevated levels of fecal bacteria in 64 Michigan watersheds.


This website was partially funded with a grant from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Michigan Finance Authority’s Stormwater, Asset Management, and Wastewater (SAW) program, Project #1013-01.
Local match funding was provided by The Pokagon Fund, Fresh Pet, Inc., Wightman, Southwest Michigan Planning Commission, and Aardvark Wordsmith.