The Scientific Approach

By Ron Kadelsik

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As MRWA resource committee chair, I preside over an exceptional gathering of subject matter experts in all areas of conservation and natural resource management. Actual attendance at our semiannual meetings varies based on current issues and projects but the core group consists of representatives from regional, state and federal agencies and departments. These typically include the Michigan Departments of Natural Resources (MDNR) and Environmental Quality (MDEQ), the US Fish and Wildlife Service as well as representatives from regional conservation districts and cities within the watershed.

Our goal is to identify, prioritize, and address issues based on sound scientific principles to encourage responsible decision-making in maintaining the health of the watershed. The solutions we propose result from fact based analysis and always consider associated risks and costs.

Most recently, we have addressed concerns from residents who live in or near the Maple Island area of Muskegon County regarding spring flooding by the Maple River. Floods have historically been significant and have inundated several homes in the area.

The Maple River was an anabranch of the Muskegon River that is approximately 4.5 miles long that starts at the Muskegon River, crosses South River Road  and continues to the southwest where it crosses Maple Island Road and eventually rejoins the Muskegon River west of the MDNR field office.

Originally the Maple River was mapped circa 1837 by early surveyors to be of equal width as the

Muskegon. Early in the 1960’s South River Drive construction closed the Maple River where it remains today, carrying only the localized ground water flow it picks up as it heads west.  

In order to learn the facts, the MRWA authorized a study by Michael J Wiley PHD from the school of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan.  Dr. Wiley hydraulically modeled the Maple River and determined that it historically carried about half of the total flow, nearly equal to the Muskegon River main stem. He concluded therefore that reopening the Maple River would reduce area flooding approximately 3 feet from the peak flood elevation. This obviously would provide significant relief to the local residents while at the same time restoring habitat for several important fish species.

Doctor Wiley’s report is preliminary in nature and the MRWA continues work with the University of Michigan to explore design options and cost estimates of reopening the Maple River to carry part of the Muskegon River flow once again.  Stay tuned.