KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — A stormwater treatment plant under construction in Kalamazoo will soon bring clean water to a nature preserve in Kalamazoo — all while being part of a scientific breakthrough.

Construction crews in the northwest corner of the Asylum Lake Preserve are building a stormwater treatment plant that will filter out phosphorus and other compounds harmful to wildlife, including a familiar wintertime sight in the Midwest: road salt.

A snapping turtle at the Asylum Lake Preserve in Kalamazoo on Sept. 27, 2023.
A snapping turtle at the Asylum Lake Preserve in Kalamazoo on Sept. 27, 2023.

As a tool, road salt is known to keep drivers safe from snow and ice. But as runoff, it also has a notorious reputation for being dangerous to wildlife, according to Peter Strazdas, who serves as chair for the Asylum Lake Policy and Management Council.

“By limiting and removing the sodium or salts that enter the lake, we can extend the life of the lake, improve the water quality of the lake,” Strazdas explained. “Of course, these bodies of water — whether it’s streams, lakes, or river — all of that ends up in our drinking water.”

According to the council, which manages the preserve, runoff contaminated with tons of road salt seeps into the preserve. This has given area researchers something to ponder.

“Can you take sodium of salts out of the water before it goes into the lake? The lab bench tests that are being done are proving they can do that,” Strazdas said.

From the lab to the lake, that innovative technology will make its real-world debut as the second part of a stormwater treatment plant mostly funded by state grants. It will handle runoff from Drake Road, Stadium Drive and US-131.

“This is a game changer, not only for southwest Michigan or WMU, but also for the rest of the globe in trying to publish these new methods,” Strazdas added. “We hope that others, especially in the northern climate that has a lot of road salt — they too can manage their stormwater in a much more effective manner to improve water quality.”

The plant is expected to open by this November.