From the Office of the Director

Marty Holtgren Ph.D.
Executive Director
Muskegon River Watershed Assembly

A recent announcement from Lansing includes good news for anyone who cares about the Muskegon River. The department of Environment, Great lakes and Energy (EGLE) has awarded a grant totaling $108,000 to the Muskegon River Watershed Assembly (MRWA). The geographical areas of focus are four sub-watersheds:  Bigelow Creek, Hess Lake, Brooks Creek and Mosquito Creek.

The grant provides funding to update our existing watershed management plan which when completed will include specific recommendations for restoration and protection projects in all four watersheds.

Key elements of the updated plan will include:

  • New stream monitoring data
  • An agricultural inventory
  • Wetland functional assessments
  • An updated dam inventory

An approved watershed management plan is required to apply for implementation funds offered annually by the Nonpoint Source Program. In other words, this grant represents the successful first step to qualify for additional funding that will be invested locally to improve the quality of fresh water resources.  Over the next three to four years, we intend to manage major restoration projects aimed at reducing nonpoint sources of sediment, nutrients and other contaminants.

For the purposes of regulation, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identifies two broad categories of pollution: point-source pollution and nonpoint-source pollution.

The EPA defines point source pollution as any contaminant that enters the environment from an easily identified and confined place. Examples include smokestacks, discharge pipes, and drainage ditches.

Waste filled water is dumped into a river, polluting it for the people and animals that use it as a source for eating and drinking.

Point-source pollution is easy to identify. As the name suggests, it comes from a single place. Nonpoint-source pollution is harder to identify and harder to address since it comes from many places, all at once.

Nonpoint-source pollution is the opposite of point-source pollution, with pollutants released in a wide area. As an example, picture a city street during a thunderstorm. As rainwater flows over asphalt, it washes away drops of oil that leaked from car engines, particles of tire rubber, dog waste, and trash. The runoff goes into a storm sewer and ends up in a nearby river. Runoff is a major cause of nonpoint-source pollution. It is a big problem in cities because of all the hard surfaces, including streets and roofs. The amount of pollutants washed from a single city block might be small, but when you add up the miles and miles of pavement in a big city you get a big problem.

In rural areas, runoff can wash sediment from the roads in a logged-over forest tract. It can also carry acid from abandoned mines and flush pesticides and fertilizer from farm fields. All of this pollution is likely to wind up in streams, rivers, and lakes.

For the purposes of this grant, our major concern is nonpoint sources of pollution as found in rural areas. While it is too early in the process to define the specific elements of the plan, it is certain that the effort will include significant reforestation projects since trees serve as natural filters for all contaminants in the ground.  Additionally we will continue to focus on stream bank stabilization efforts, road stream crossing repair and the removal of obsolete dams.

As an indirect benefit, we typically hire local engineering firms and other contactors to do the heavy lifting. As a result, a significant amount of state funding will be invested in the local economy.

“Protecting and Restoring the Muskegon River

For nearly twenty years, the Muskegon River Watershed Management Plan has provided the organization strategic direction in pursuit of our stated mission. Drafted in 2002 by a diverse team of scientists from the Annis Water Resource Institute at Grand Valley State University and funded by a grant from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), this comprehensive plan has imposed scientific discipline and a systematic approach to all of our efforts.

The results are satisfying to date. We have reforested 100’s of acres of riparian land, improved stream flow, stabilized shorelines and removed one obsolete dam.

However, the time always arrives when any strategic plan no matter how sound and well thought out would benefit from an update. The recent grant announcement by the Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) makes that possible.

These grants are funded under Section 205(j) of the federal Clean Water Act and were offered via a request for proposals. Robert Sweet, EGLE Grants Specialist noted that the award decisions were challenging. “In response to our request for proposals we received 15 applications requesting about $1.6 million. I would like to commend all the applicants for their effort and congratulate the three organizations that were selected in this very competitive process.”

MRWA executive director Marty Holtgren (PHD) responded enthusiastically to the announcement. “We are honored to be selected by EGLE to carry out this critically important work. We fully intend to develop a comprehensive, science-based management plan that will serve as the foundation for future efforts to restore and protect the Muskegon River Watershed. As always, we are grateful for the support of dedicated organizations that share our vision. In this case, partners include Trout Unlimited, Grand Valley State University, and the Newaygo Conservation District.  

Nichol DeMol Great Lakes Habitat Program Manager for Trout Unlimited commented, “Many tributaries discharge cold water into the main stem of the Muskegon River and provide a broad network of interconnecting habitats for cold-water species including trout. Trout Unlimited is eager to partner with the MRWA in updating the watershed management plan to identify potential issues that can alter these cold-water streams and plan for practices that protect and restore these areas.” 

About the Muskegon River Watershed Assembly: The Muskegon River Watershed Assembly is dedicated to the preservation, restoration, and sustainable use of the Muskegon River, the land it drains, and the life it supports.