Watershed Moment

This is our Watershed moment - a generational opportunity for restoration initiatives on Michigan’s rarest river

Recently, environmental issues have drawn global attention and in fact, a resolution in the United Nations has declared the next ten years as “the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration”. The goal is to revive damaged ecosystems with special emphasis on freshwater restoration.

In America, The current US administration has repeatedly emphasized a willingness to invest in critical infrastructure spending, while at the state level, the Michigan legislature has shown an intention to fund the agencies responsible for protecting our national resources. Some of the money has already been allocated for initiatives within our watershed including $300 million for safety upgrades at Hardy Dam in part due to the statewide concerns over recent catastrophic dam failures.

In the future, we anticipate significant state and federal investments in the Michigan environment. Based on our solid reputation as an effective, results oriented organization we expect to earn our fair share.

The convergence of these powerful forces clearly defines our Watershed Moment for the next decade within the following areas of focus:

Economic Analysis

MRWA is collaborating with the Michigan State University Center to gain greater understanding of the economic impact of environmentally focused projects. What is likely to happen- for better or for worse - when a faulty dam is removed or an erosion site is mediated? What actually happens compared to the projections? MRWA wants to lead the field in knowing our numbers, understanding our outcomes, and sharing what we learn.

 

Direct Engagement

MRWA will continue to nurture highly effective, mutually beneficial relationships with local, state and federal government agencies, as well as industry, media, NPO’s, and aligned watershed partners to coordinate our efforts for cost effective, maximum impact. Whenever possible we will seek out new allies in order to protect and restore the Muskegon River Smaller scale Projects- Environmentally targeted, high-impact, publicly supported local initiativesincluding the removal of small, failing dams to restore freshwater habitat and improve public safety. There are dozens of aging, deteriorating, and hazardous small dams in tributaries across the nine-county watershed area that are identified by property owners, governmental entities, public safety professionals, and corporate owners as appropriate for removal. Later in 2021, MRWA will partner with Schrems West Michigan Trout Unlimited to remove a dam on Kinney Creek in Mecosta County, extending an additional 8 miles of prime trout habitat. Other small dam removals at various stages in the removal process include Altona, Buckhorn Creek, Penoyer Creek, and Brooks Creek in Newaygo County.

Large Scale Projects

Big ideas that have positive, long term impact on the environment, the regional economy, and the people and cultures along the watershed. MRWA funds scientific and economic studies, creates public dialogue, engages corporate partners, and moves forward with bold initiatives designed to restore almost two centuries of watershed destruction, while preserving local economies - always with people in mind.

Have no doubt that MRWA is in it for the long haul. Massive projects that may take a decade or more are in the early planning stages. Working with federal, state, and local agencies, these ambitious projects will require focus, time, patience, and most importantly- active partnerships with other organizations seeking a restored watershed. These projects include the Marion Dam Removal, the Maple Island / Maple River restoration near Bridgeton. We are also discussing even bigger projects with an eye toward reconnecting the Muskegon, while improving both the regional economy, and the quality of life for residents along the watershed. All three of the hydroelectric power dams (Croton, Hardy, and Rogers) along the mighty Muskegon require FERC relicensing by 2034. Now is the time to discuss structural improvements that would benefit aquatic wildlife as well as human residents of the watershed.

Tangible Results

As a project based, results oriented organization we have always been willing to trust the metrics in defining the outcomes we achieve. We have planted trees, removed small dams, and replaced stream crossings while investing more than $5 million of state and federal funding to the benefit of the resource.

Twenty years after we began, the Muskegon River flows measurably cooler and cleaner thanks to our efforts; new growth forests filter pollutants and provide cooling shade. Wild species are more abundant, spawning habitat more extensive.

Further, MRWA continues to foster a culture with an emphasis on getting things done. For example In August 2021, over 300 volunteers will coordinate across the Watershed for Trash Bash, the largest river cleanup the Muskegon River has ever seen.

Now, looking forward to funding increases that could exceed our 20 year total in less than one year, we are confident our watershed moment has arrived.