Research shows St. Joe River contains pollutants possibly harmful to fish

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. A U.S. Geological Survey study found some troubling news out of the St. Joseph river.

Researchers say the St. Joseph was one of three river basins in Michigan to test for high levels of pollutants.
The data was compiled between 2010 and 2013.
The pollutants find their way into the river through storm water.
And while South Bend and Mishawaka are spending millions of dollars on plans to eliminate combined sewer outflows, they say homeowners can help them as well.
“I sit at a desk all day, so this is a great way of breaking up the day,” sculler Mike Jones said.

Jones isn't one to waste a pristine summer night.

“On an evening like this, you can see the river's perfectly calm. And that means you can get the best kind of stroke,” Jones said.

Jones is venturing out for a 5-mile sculling trip up and back the St. Joseph River.

“People paddle by sight, but you row by faith. Because you never see where you're going,” Jones said.

But Jones says in 20 years, there are a few things he can see; more people enjoying the river and he says the water quality is improving.

“Once I get past the Ironwood bridge, I can see the bottom all the way up to Logan Street. The water is that clear,” Jones said.

The river has Jones' vote of confidence, but researchers with the US Geological Survey recently found the St. Joseph basin tested high for organic pollutants, which can have a negative effect on the fish population.

“In 2008, there was 2.2 billion gallons of combined sewage entering the St. Joseph River in South Bend. Last year, those figures were down to 399 million gallons. This year, at halfway through the year, we're on track to decrease that again,” South Bend director of LTCP management Kieran Fahey said.

Fahey says South Bend is complying with the EPA mandate to eliminate combined sewer outflows by spending around 150 million dollars so far to restructure the city's entire sewer system.

“A huge engineering feat. It's the largest public works project the city has ever undertaken,” Fahey said.

Fahey says while fewer CSOs means less contamination in the water, homeowners can help reduce city storm water by unhooking the downspouts from their houses.

“And the city, until the end of 2017, come to your house and do that disconnection for free,” Fahey said.
The total cost of South Bend's wastewater project is more than $600 million.

The city is about to enter phase two, which involves building nine storage facilities to handle storm water during heavy rains.

Fahey says homeowners wanting help with their downspouts can call 311 and get advice over the phone or download the 311 mobile app.

They can use the service to request city workers to come unhook their downspouts.