Lessons Learned With the MRWA

Kurt Ray Muskegon River Watershed Assembly Chair of Finance CommitteeBy Kurt Ray
Chairman MRWA Finance Committee

I joined the MRWA board thirteen years ago.  My motives were selfish at first but soon evolved into something completely different.  I made contact with the MRWA to attempt to find a solution to the massive flow of sedimentation from the Little Muskegon River into Croton Pond in front of our home.  Like most landowners, my wife and I wanted deep, open water in front of our house and the sedimentation was filling in the water at a staggering pace.  I hoped that the MRWA might be able to help us.

When I met with the Resource committee for the first time, I quickly learned two very important things:

  • First, I knew almost nothing about the actual science concerning the hydrology of a watershed and second,
  • Mankind cannot tame Mother Nature.

During my tenure with the MRWA, I have been truly amazed by the degree of dedication and knowledge of the staff, the board of directors and the consultants that we have used.  I am proud of the work we have done as an organization to preserve the Muskegon River as it has been for hundreds of years, a clean, cool water river watershed with a vibrant fishery.

This has been a daunting task for one primary reason: Mankind.

The logging boom of the 1800’s ravaged the river, leaving many scars that still exist today. I am proud to report that reforestation projects managed by the MRWA are helping to heal old wounds.

And then there are the dams on the river.  They are a fantastic way to provide electricity to our cities, but the cost is that the average temperature of the river is increased due to the impoundments of water behind the dams.  This is very damaging to most fish in the river as they are very sensitive to a temperature change as they need a cool water river to survive.

Another damaging threat to the river is the encroachment of mankind moving into the area from big cities.  You see, when someone builds a new house in the woods on the river, the rain that falls on that house no longer falls on trees to be filtered and absorbed.  It now falls on hot roofs and oily driveways and then rushes to the river, taking both the heat and the contamination to the watershed.  This has a huge, negative result for the river, as identified in a major study of the river by Dr. Michael Wiley (of U of M) in 2006. Dr. Wiley found that runoff increases the volume of water in the river, while accelerating the flow. The end result is increased erosion and higher water temperature which threatens the life of the river itself.

So what can be done to help the river?  Kick mankind out of the watershed?  I don’t think so.  What must be done is to teach and inform  those who live in the watershed or who use the river of what should and shouldn’t be done to keep the river healthy.  As residents of this planet, we all need fresh water to survive and in Michigan, we live near 20% of the world’s fresh water.  And we must PROTECT the water for the future.  And that starts with each and every one of us doing our part.  So please join us!!  Join the MRWA!!!  Come and visit our board meetings!  Get involved.  You don’t need to be a scientist to make a difference.  And remember, the River needs you!!