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October 26, 2011

A storm drain runs through it

Warren resident kayaks section of Red Run; blogs about its past, present and future

By Brian Louwers
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
A storm drain runs through it
Warren resident Willi Gutmann kayaked a section of the Red Run in July as a “publicity stunt” to raise awareness about the challenges the waterway faces.

WARREN — Willi Gutmann grew up near 13 Mile and Ryan, a stone’s throw from the banks of the Red Run. He remembers how his parents kept the house shut tight when the wind blew from the southwest.

“I know what it was like in the ‘70s,” Gutmann said. “It smelled.”

Decades later, Gutmann returned to live in the family home after stints out of state and elsewhere in metro Detroit. An avid kayaker who navigates many of the region’s waterways, including the Shiawassee and Detroit rivers, Gutmann said people asked why he doesn’t do more paddling on the Clinton River, as he lives so close to it.

The answer, he said, is that while the Red Run is technically part of the Clinton River watershed, it’s not a “natural” waterway — at least not anymore.

That hasn’t stopped him from exploring the Red Run, researching it and blogging about what he learns.

He put his kayak in the water — which swells quickly after heavy rains, when the Red Run runs briskly with storm water — for a 10-mile journey from Mound to the Maple Lane Golf Club and back in mid-July.

“I kayaked the Red Run strictly for a PR stunt,” said Gutmann, 45, adding that he waited until a few days after a big release of storm water from Oakland County’s George W. Kuhn Retention Treatment Basin to do it.

According to Oakland County, the Kuhn Drain — formerly the Twelve Towns Drainage District — serves all or part of 14 communities and covers 24,500 acres of drainage areas upstream from the Red Run, a tributary of the Clinton River.

While water is usually diverted to Detroit for treatment during dry weather, high volumes of combined sewage — more than 93 percent of which is storm water, according to the county — during heavy rainfall can result in the diversion of overflow to the Kuhn basin for storage, disinfection and treatment prior to discharge into the Red Run.

But the water flowing through the Red Run is not exactly pristine.

“The last thing you want to do is swallow any of it, flip your boat or anything,” Gutmann said. “It’s a storm drain, and this is what dumps into the Clinton River a few miles away.”

A $3.83 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project under way along the banks of the Red Run and inside the George Kuhn Drain, much of which was funded through a federal stimulus package in 2009, is designed to improve flow and reduce the build up of sediment.

Bank stabilization and shoal removal projects along the Red Run in Macomb County east of Dequindre — including Warren, Sterling Heights, and Clinton Township — include repairing stream banks, dredging and the removal of overgrown brush to promote more efficient flow.

Projects also included repairing a section of drainpipe in Madison Heights, under John R between 12 Mile and 13 Mile, to eliminate an illicit connection to the Red Run.

After spending a few hours on the Red Run and many more researching and writing about it, Gutmann said clearly more needs to be done before homes near the waterway should be billed as “waterfront property.”

“It’s not the best water,” Gutmann said. “The fact of the matter is, nobody is going to take a fishing pole and try to get fish out of the Red Run. Nobody’s going to put their boat in the Red Run and go for a paddle.”

According to information compiled in an executive summary of the Red Run subwatershed by the Clinton River Watershed Council, 80 square miles of forest and 59 square miles of swamps and wetlands made up the Red Run subwatershed in the 1830s. Residential, commercial and industrial development since left just three square miles of agricultural and natural areas remaining as of 2006.

Past and continued development continues to impact the quality of water in the Red Run, according to the summary. Impervious surfaces that increase runoff and pollutant transfer to nearby bodies of water, sewer systems and pollutant control facilities were listed as contributing factors.

To access Gutmann’s blog about the Red Run visit redrundrain.wordpress.com.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Brian Louwers at brianlouwers@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1089.

Construction activity in October along the Red Run can be viewed at
http://redrundrain.wordpress.com/2011/10/16/construction-along-red-run-in-october/