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A new filtration system will help keep polluted stormwater out of Asylum Lake

two men stand on top of mound of rocks and straw next to a lake with cut trees in the background
Jessi Phillips
Mark Kieser (left) and John Jacobson of Kieser & Associates stand on top of the filtration system, which runs along the north side of Asylum Lake.

Stormwater from nearby US 131 and Stadium Drive has been damaging the lake's ecosystem for decades.

 A new project is underway to help keep harmful storm water contaminants out of a Kalamazoo nature preserve.

For decades, untreated storm water from US 131 and Stadium Drive has been flowing into Kalamazoo’s Asylum Lake. Salt as well as nitrogen and phosphorus compounds have devastated the lake’s ecosystem.

“When you add other heavy metals that come on the roadway from brake pads from tires, they all end up on the surface, we don't see those,” said environmental engineer Mark Kieser. “But once it rains, it washes off in a storm sewer, it also comes in the lake.”

Through a grant from EGLE, his firm, Kieser & Associates, is creating a filtration system that would keep most of the contaminants from Stadium Drive from entering the lake.

First, a device will capture the stormwater and filter out sediment. The water will then travel another 800 feet along the lake through rocks and soil.

 “So now the soils are also serving as treatment before that water goes into the lake,” said Kieser.

The project borders the Stadium Drive property where, controversially, the Drive and Shine carwash chain wants to build. Kieser stressed that the filtration project is not intended to process runoff from that site.

 “This is 100 percent associated with what exists right now. It would be up to the City of Kalamazoo in terms of, if somebody developed this property to the immediate north, how they had to manage what they were doing,” said Kieser.

“We have not designed and we have no plans for accepting more stormwater, because the Asylum Lake Preserve is already taking in all the stormwater from everybody else," he added.

a portable toilet with the words No Drive No Shine written in green spray paint along a roadside
Jessi Phillips
Kieser said there has been concern that the filtration project is associated with the nearby property owned by Drive and Shine car wash chain, as evidenced by the graffiti on the portable toilet at the site.

Kieser explained that hopefully, businesses along Stadium Drive will eventually treat their own stormwater.

 “Everybody says, 'You should force them to treat,'” said Kieser. “Well, that could take another two to three to four decades. So in 20 to 40 years, what happens to Asylum Lake?”

The site could also potentially be used for field research. A team at Western Michigan University is trying to develop a method to remove salt from the lake. Road salt causes issues for waterways around the world, but there are few alternatives, and no effective ways to remove it from bodies of water.

“They’re using beet juice. They're using a bunch of other stuff,” project engineer John Jacobson said of alternatives to road salt. “Nothing is as economic, nothing is as easy to use, and nothing is as effective.”

WMU researchers are still developing the salt removal process in the lab. If it works, it could be tested at Asylum Lake.

Kieser & Associates has been working on the project for a month, and expects the initial stormwater project at Asylum Lake to be completed in another month.