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The Rouge River is a highly urbanized watershed of approximately 467 square miles located in southeast Michigan. The International Joint Commission (IJC) identified the Rouge River Watershed an area of concern (AOC) because of water quality impairments. Based on studies of the watershed water quality issues, the Rouge River Remedial Action Plan (RAP) recommends programs to eliminate illicit connections and discharges as a way to reduce pollutant loads. In 1987, Wayne County implemented an illicit connection detection program to identify and eliminate potential and existing discharges of pollutants to the Rouge River. It is one of the first programs of its type in the United States.

Because of Wayne County's size and number of commercial facilities, establishing criteria to select and prioritize investigation areas is necessary. Information on land use, complaint history, and existing water quality data is used to identify areas for investigation. After an area is identified, facilities are selected for investigation based on business type and potential for causing surface water quality impairment. The purpose of the facility investigation is to dye test plumbing fixtures to determine proper sanitary sewer connection and observe general housekeeping for practices that may introduce pollutants to surface water.

Wayne County inspected 5,753 facilities within the Rouge River watershed from October 1987 through December 2003. These inspections identified 1,483 illicit connections at 417 facilities, approximately 7.3 percent of the facilities tested. The average number of illicit connections per facility is 3.6. Floor drains comprise 54 percent of the illicit connections. Finding and eliminating these illicit connections prevents an estimated 12,530,752 gallons of polluted water, 29,554 pounds of biological oxygen demand (BOD5), 100,489 pounds of total solids (TS), and 2,020 pounds of total phosphorous from entering Wayne County surface waters.

Facility dye testing is an effective method to eliminate illicit connections. Developing the initial illicit connection detection plan with Wayne County communities and the State of Michigan established invaluable collaborative relationships. These entities cooperate with the County during inspections, information gathering, and enforcement actions as necessary. Establishing these relationships promotes intergovernmental cooperation in water quality improvement and protection efforts. The working relationships formed between local units of government provide united and comprehensive efforts to reduce improper discharges to water resources. This benefits the communities and citizens of Wayne County by reducing pollution levels in the County's water resources, providing improved water quality and enhanced recreational opportunities.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2004

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