New research is pinpointing the cause of water quality issues that may be hard to swallow.

According to the Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network, failing septic systems are fouling beaches and prompting water advisories in a region encompassing Bay, Arenac, Huron, Iosco and Tuscola counties.

It estimates that between 6,000 and 15,000 systems in the region are failing, releasing up to 1.26-billions of gallons of sewage each year.

This translates to filling 2,000 Olympic size swimming pools every year with raw sewage.

Mike Kelly, Director of the Great Lakes Watershed Initiative Network, said the study was in light of body contact warnings and beach closings on the increase.

He said the Kawkawlin River is one of the target areas because it moves more slowly than other rivers, acting like a pond. When it rains, bacteria builds up and becomes a hazard.

Kelly said oftentimes a septic system is failing, but the homeowner doesn’t realize it, and part of the point of releasing the study is to make people aware of the need to make repairs and upgrades.

“It all adds up to the cleaner the water going out the better it is,” said Raymond Daniels, owner of Daniels Septic Service.

Daniels has owned his company in Sterling for 42 years. He said he’s seen it all.

Daniels said if you're concerned about your system, there's only one way to find out if it's OK.

“I tell people all the time, the only way to know for sure is to open the tank up and look at it - that will give you all the answers,” he said.

While the study focused on Bay, Arenac, Huron, Iosco and Tuscola counties, Daniels said many of the homes with problems were meant for vacation use, but instead are occupied year-round - overloading the older systems.

“Someone that lives along the coast, for example, if they still have the old system it’s not going to work. They can’t live with that system and use it daily, back when someone would come up one weekend out of the month. Now, they've hooked up the laundry done all that, added much more water flowing through that system,” Daniels said.

Daniels said he's coming across fewer of the older systems these days, but if you do have and it isn't giving you any problems, he said not to worry about it.

No matter what kind of system you have, the key to avoiding problems is education.

“It’s not complicated to maintain a septic system. The cleaner the water going out, the better for our environment and that's what were all about is trying to have clean water. Between the DEQ and health department, they're educating the pumper much more than before and in turn we can educate the homeowner," Daniels said. 

Monday marks the very first day of Septic-Smart Week. It's a special week dedicated by Governor Rick Snyder. 


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