Water shout

Dec 19, 2007 at 12:00 am

"I'm the big mouth who tries to get people in power make things happen," says Doug Martz.

And what he wants to see happen now is creation of a funding mechanism to keep a new drinking water monitoring system for southeast Michigan going forever.

Martz could have made a fortune in the PR business if he'd wanted. The guy has a sort of genius for generating publicity.

In that regard, he first made his mark in 1994 after witnessing a billion-gallon flood of raw sewage come rushing down the Clinton River near his home on Lake St. Clair in Harrison Township.

He responded by outfitting a buddy's 36-foot boat with 32,000 Christmas lights strung over chicken wire formed into the shape of a giant toilet. Then they started appearing in boat parades, with kids waving plungers while dancing in the bowl of yellow lights.

Martz eventually became chair of the Macomb County Water Quality Board, which he helped create. Then he helped launch St. Clair Channelkeeper, part of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s Waterkeeper Alliance, which safeguards waterways by suing polluters.

You can read about Martz's journey into activism in this fall's edition of Waterkeeper magazine online at waterkeeper.org.

His current crusade is to ensure permanent funding to maintain a new system that monitors intake at water treatment plants stretching from Port Huron to Wyandotte. He figures about $1 million a year will be needed.

The new system — parts of which still aren't in place — is a technological marvel providing real-time information to anyone with Internet access. The money Martz says is needed would pay for maintenance costs and create a fund for replacing equipment as it wears out.

A recently established blue ribbon commission with representatives from throughout the region is currently at work studying ways to come up with the money, says Chair Russell LaBarge. A report on the issue is expected in the spring.

Martz says that, as good as it is, the new system should also be improved at key locations to check for contamination not just deep in the water, where intakes are located, but also at the surface, where pollutants like oil float. He also wants to see the information that's collected used to help track down polluters.

"It's not enough to make sure the water's safe," he says. "We also need to track down the bastards who are causing problems."

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]