From the Desk of the Director

Scott Faulkner
Executive Director
Muskegon River Watershed Assembly


“Prophecy speaks of a time during the seventh fire when our people will have a choice between two paths. The first path is well worn and scorched. The second path is new and green. It is our choice as communities and as individuals how we will proceed” Winona LaDuke, from the contemporary Anishinaabe tradition.

Interestingly enough, in the prophecy the people decide to take neither road, but instead to turn back, to remember, and to reclaim the wisdom of those who came before them.  I think about that when I ponder the fate of the Muskegon, especially in light of several important MRWA restoration initiatives that are gaining attention, steam, and vitally important- funding.

In The Muskegon: The Majesty and Tragedy of Michigan’s Rarest River, published in 2006 by Jeff Alexander, after an appropriate litany of systemic abuse to this remarkably resilient watershed, the author makes a compelling case for restoration, albeit with little hope of attainment.  Alexander’s most poignant and systemic lament describes a need for a best-case restoration, contingent upon the apparently hopeless goal of dealing with the three remaining hydro dams on the main stem of the Muskegon River- Rogers, Hardy, and Croton.

These massive structures, 100+ years old, obsolete and financially under-performing, continue to segment our river, preventing organism migration, increasing water temperature, and causing predictable silting and pond degradation. They further embody a host of other legitimate environmental complaints still true 28 years post-publication.  However, due to their size, complexity, and the interrelationship with local economies, these dams are simply untouchable. Hopeless.  Until they aren’t.

Suddenly, Consumers Energy is actively looking at the retirement process of 13 of its hydro dams, including the “Big Three” on the Muskegon.  What couldn’t be imagined by Alexander is now a well-choreographed series of Consumers Energy-sponsored preliminary stakeholder engagement meetings, facilitated by Public Sector Consultants. The first of these meetings kicked off in August and the last will conclude in October.  All three of the CE Hydro Dams on the Muskegon will be either a) relicensed in 2034 for a limited number of years, b) sold to a third party, or c) retired, reconfigured, or removed.  The six-hundred-pound gorilla in the room just got punched in the nose!  Muskegon’s future will now change again, and in a large way.

Additionally there is more good news to report from every section of the river top to bottom. At the headwaters, the Gerrish Lyon Utility Authority (GLUA) is laboring greatly to both make the case and acquire the funding for a massive sewer project to protect the watershed from its origin at Higgins Lake.

Near the mouth of the river before it finally flows into Lake Michigan, the Federal Government no longer lists Muskegon Lake as an Area of Concern (AOC). After years of exploitation as an industrial sewer, the lake is now a haven for fish and wildlife.

In the middle of the watershed, the Maple Rive project, when completed will stand as the largest restoration initiative in MRWA’s 25-year history. Along with our partners at the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians and the US Army Corps of Engineers, we are ready to launch the first phase: a $500,000.00 hydrological study to define the environmental effect and the resulting impact on local residents.

Interest is obviously at an all-time high. In September, MRWA’s Discover Maple River event was filled to capacity with Muskegon and Newaygo County students and stakeholders, eager to learn more about this major undertaking.

Photos courtesy Sarah Marie Himes

In light of all the current focus on our watershed we feel the  time is right for a real hydro mitigation discussion– bringing MRWA to a very exciting place, at a time where we can better understand our actions more deeply than at any time in history.  MRWA is increasing our reach, impact, capacity and staff today, and we are involved at the grassroots levels in each of these initiatives.

MRWA continues to review, analyze, and support projects that meet all four key criteria:

  1. Environmental
  2. Economic
  3. People and Culture and
  4. Sustainability

I believe the Prophecy is right:  It is time to turn back, to remember, and to reclaim the wisdom of those who came before us, but this time with the additional benefit of vastly increased scientific, economic, and social understanding.

We must consider how this generation must now pay a very, very dear price for business interests in the 1920’s – what we now call sustainability, and as the Anishinaabe visioned in their planning to include seven generations.   Many dams constructed with a 50-year designed life expectancy are now more than double that age, with thriving surrounding economies now interdependent on their impoundments, all with zero plans on what is to come next.  It was seven generations ago when this all got started and these dams were constructed.

It’s a real puzzle for our time, a puzzle that can and must be solved, and a monumental task that I believe MRWA is ready to tackle with our partners.   The Muskegon continues to do what it has always done.  As Solomon observed-

“All streams flow into the sea,

    yet the sea is never full.

To the place the streams come from,

    there they return again.”

This river is a gift to us.  It is not going away.  MRWA donations are a gift to your kids and grandkids, and our passion is to see this watershed is given to them in the best possible state.  Kindly remember this as the end of the year approaches.  Thank you.