Mid Year Review

Marty Holtgren PHD
Principal Watershed Scientist
Muskegon River Watershed Assembly

Last fall, the department of Environment, Great lakes and Energy (EGLE) awarded a grant totaling $108,000 to the Muskegon River Watershed Assembly to update our existing watershed management plan specifically to address non-point source pollution in the lower watershed.

Nonpoint-source pollution, which can be extremely harmful to the environment, occurs when pollutants are released near a water source over a wide path. In rural areas, for example runoff after heavy rainfall can flush pesticides and fertilizer from farm fields. All of this pollution is likely to wind up in streams, rivers, and lakes. It is a complex issue requiring targeted solutions beginning with an effective plan.

Since accepting the EGLE grant, we have made significant progress, building a team and assigning responsibilities for gathering the data and doing the analysis that will form the foundation of our plan. We intend to submit the final version before the end of 2023 to qualify for significant funding to address non-point source pollution in our watershed.

It is worth noting non-point source pollution has drawn increasing focus from agencies other than EGLE.  For example, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), a multi-agency initiative created in 2010, provides funding strategically targeting the biggest threats to the Great Lakes ecosystem. Addressing non-point source pollution is a priority and reforestation projects designed to reduce run off qualify since they are highly effective remedies for this type of pollution.

This trend is obviously welcome news for the MRWA since we have experience with the work involved and we favor projects that have a highly measurable impact on the local environment. The major reforestation effort, currently in progress is a good example.

GLRI Tree Planting

The stated goal of the project, funded through GLRI, is to reduce Non-Point Source Runoff and improve water quality through implementation of green infrastructure within the Muskegon River Watershed.  To accomplish this objective we intend to plant approximately 750 trees over 300 acres at thirteen locations in four counties within the watershed:

  1. Osceola County: City of Evart
  2. Mecosta County: Paris Park, School Section Lake Veterans Park ( both Mecosta County Parks)
  3. Newaygo County : Ed H Henning County Park, Sandy Beach County Park, Bridgeton Township boat launch and Maple Island boat launch, and four separate locations in the City of Newaygo
  4. Muskegon County: City of Fremont and City of Muskegon

To date we have placed approximately 650 trees in the ground and expect to finalize the project by the end of July. When finished a measurement tool will allow us to predict with accuracy the amount of runoff eliminated by the new trees but for now we can say with confidence the number will be well into the thousands of gallons.

As is typical this time of year a number of projects are in in the early stages of execution in that we have received the grants and begun the planning. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) through the National Fish Passage Program is the principle funder for two significant projects.

One of these represents the first stage of the more extensive Maple River reconnection project, which is still in the discovery stage. Until we can confirm all of the details, we feel it is best that we refrain from issuing a partial report at this time. Alternatively, we plan to host a public session mid-September to provide a comprehensive update.

We are in a more advanced stage of a second project funded by USFWS focused on the removal of the Altona Dam. We are close to securing all the necessary funding and we submitted a request for a permit to EGLE in May. We have developed an engineering and design plan for the project and once we receive the permit, we will solicit for a firm to do the removal.  We expect this work to begin the in the spring of 2023.

Statement of problem:

The Altona Dam is a derelict concrete dam on the Little Muskegon River in Mecosta County, Michigan. It was built around 1880 and abandoned several decades ago, leaving behind a crumbling structure that has created a large scour pool and barrier to aquatic organism passage.

In addition to the MRWA there are multiple partners working on this project including USFWS, Conservation Resource Alliance, the Michigan DNR, and the Mecosta County Road Commission.  The Green Bay Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (GBFWCO) is leading the first phase of this project related to design and permitting while our partners have raised funds for the dam removal and stream bank restoration.

Project Objectives:

The objective of this project is to reconnect more than 18 miles (~15 upstream, ~3 downstream) of instream habitat on the main branch of the Little Muskegon River and east/west branches restoring aquatic organism passage to the upper reaches of the watershed by removing the derelict Altona Dam.

This proposal aims to fund the removal phase.  Our objective at this stage is to implement the 100% design plans to remove the dam and restore the Little Muskegon River to a natural functioning channel and riparian.

Finally, we have applied for three additional grants and are awaiting notification of receipt:

  1. Sustain our Great Lakes: For removal funding for Altona Dam as indicated above as well as Buckhorn Creek Dam
  2. Great Lakes Basin Fish Habitat Partnership: For bank protection and habitat installation at Clay Cliffs Natural Area in Big Rapids
  3. Great Lakes Sediment and Nutrient Reduction Program: For bank protection of a large eroding bank on the main stem of the Muskegon River near Maple Island.

Many of these projects described here are interrelated with common objectives. The most extensive of them will not reach the final stages for a year or more. When complete however the impact on the watershed will be very significant and well worth the time and effort.