Understanding Stormwater and Illicit Discharges
The MACC Welcomes a New Executive Director
Bidding Farewell to Our Summer Interns
Project Clarity Update
Making the Case for Green Infrastructure 2018
Storm Drain Stenciling
Macatawa Water Festival Recap
Stormwater includes rain and snowmelt that runs over the surface of the land and enters storm drains. Once in a storm drain, a system of pipes carries stormwater to a nearby lake or stream. This is good because stormwater is pure, clean water that helps enhance our lakes and stream. No, wait, that doesn’t sound right…
Yes, stormwater is carried directly to lakes and streams, but so is everything it picks along the way. Stormwater picks up all kinds of pollutants as it runs over the surface of the land. Pollutants can include fertilizers (nitrogen and phosphorus), pesticides, road salt, pet waste, grass clippings, oil and gasoline, heavy metals (from brake dust), soil, and trash. These materials in our lakes and streams impair water quality for uses such as habitat, recreation, irrigation, and drinking water. Once they are in the water, most pollutants are difficult to remove, especially things like fertilizers and pesticides that dissolve in water. Therefore, the best solution to water pollution is preventing it from happening in the first place.
Further more, any discharge to the storm sewer system that is not composed entirely of stormwater is considered to be an illicit (illegal) discharge. Illicit discharges include illegal connections to the storm sewer, intentional dumping and accidental spills. The following is a short list of illicit discharges:
There are some exceptions to this rule, such as water from firefighting activities, sump pump discharges, clean groundwater discharges, non-commercial car washing (though it’s still a good idea to not allow this wastewater to enter the storm drain), air conditioning condensate, landscape irrigation runoff (which can still carry pollution), and industrial discharges that have been permitted by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
If you see an illicit discharge you should immediately report it to your City or Township so that it can be eliminated and cleaned up. Take pictures if you can, especially if the pollution will be washed away before someone can investigate. And always remember, only rain down the drain!
We are pleased to welcome Tim Burkman to our team as Executive Director. He graduated from Valparaiso University with a degree in Civil Engineering and is a licensed, professional engineer. Tim served as the Engineering Director for the City of Valparaiso in Northwest Indiana for the last 13 years and enjoyed being part of the great transformation that area has undergone. Moving to this part of Michigan has been a longtime hope for him and his family, and he’s thankful to sink roots in the Macatawa area. “I’ve always enjoyed serving to improve the community in which I live. I’m very excited about all that the MACC has accomplished, and am energized to make even more strides toward a healthier and more functional Macatawa Area.”
When Tim isn’t wearing his director hat, he loves spending time with his wife, Jessica, and their three children: Lydia (9), Elijah (6), and Micah (3). On top of all the bike rides, ice cream and beach evenings, the Burkmans have a unique passion for serving international newcomers. Ten years ago they started up a non-profit organization called Compass International Family Center that cares for immigrants and refugees in Northwest Indiana. “One of the things we love most about the Holland area is the international diversity we’ve experienced. We feel very blessed to call this area home, and look forward to serving within our new community.”
As we heartily welcome our new Executive Director, we also say a bittersweet goodbye to our summer interns. We are sad to see them go because of all they have been able to do with us, but we wish them all the best as they return to classes and pursue paid employment opportunities. Here’s what they had to say about their summer experiences:
Claire: This summer I enjoyed learning more about road stream inventories, GIS, and the Holland community. Every day was something different and the people I worked with made this internship a wonderful experience! I loved getting out into the community and teaching kids how to keep our watershed clean!
Bethany: I enjoyed participating in field activities like collecting macroinvertebrates and conducting road stream crossings as well as being a part of outreach events like the Macatawa Water Festival. I also enjoyed meeting people from the different cities and organizations around Ottawa county. I hope to continue applying the knowledge and skills I have learned moving forward as I continue to look for and pursue opportunities related to environmental issues.
Luke: This summer I was able to work with volunteers to do road-stream crossing inventories, helped out at community events and also spent time in the office working on mapping projects. It was nice to work on projects that are useful to someone and not just for class credit. I enjoyed my time at the MACC and getting to know my fellow interns!
Wet spring conditions coupled with prolonged hot and dry spells this summer created challenging conditions for farmers in the watershed. Growers who were able to plant before the deluge of rain saw one of two things: crops that came up and had a good start or seed that sat in the ground, rotted and needed to be replanted. In some cases, re-plants were not able to happen. We saw several thousand acres that were not ever planted due to wet conditions. Many of these unplanted acres were instead planted to cover crops to protect the soil and improve soil health.
Planting cover crops has gained in popularity in many areas of the world for a variety of reasons. Specific cover crops are planted to target areas of concern within that cropping system or soil condition. One of the changes we have seen in recent years is farmers planting multi-species cover crops. Some seed mixes may have as many as 15 different species. Multi-species cover crop cocktails have a variety of benefits not always found with a single species of cover crop. Different plants have different root structures that will move into the soil at varying depths. This allows water to infiltrate at a variety of depths and help break up compaction at those depths. Many of these mixes have plants that germinate and grow at different times of the year. Late summer planted cover crops with multi species may only have some of their plants growing in the fall. Come spring, other varieties in that mix will take over and provide additional soil protection.
Other growers are using multi-species cover crops to reduce the amount of fertilizer needed for the following cash crop. Certain legumes can be used to fix nitrogen from the air in nodules on their roots. A number of cover crops are able to scavenge nitrogen from the soil and make it available to the following crop as the cover crop decomposes. Holding nitrogen in the plant tissue is far better than letting it volatilize into the air or wash into our waterways. All cover crops, multi or single species, help increase organic matter found in the soil. Increased organic matter has positive impacts on nutrient and water retention.
There are few areas in Michigan where will you find naturally occurring monocultures (single species). Even where one plant seems to dominate the landscape there will be more diversity than we typically find in our agricultural fields. It is important to take our cues from nature when considering healthy soils. Multi-species cover crops mimic the diversity we often find in native grasslands or prairies. Though few cover crops are native plants, the concept is the same.
This year the Macatawa Watershed saw a huge increase in the number of multi-species cover crops being planted. About an additional 1,000 acres were planted to cover crop mixes with at least 3 species or more. We have a number of early adopters who have been planting multi species for a number of years, some of which have increased the number of species in their mixes to at least 8 or more.
Cover crops coupled with other soil conservation practices will continue to have a positive impact on the water quality in the Macatawa Watershed. Unfortunately, regenerating the soil once it is lost to erosion is slow process. It may take many years to see organic matter numbers increase even just 1%. However, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, an increase of 1% organic matter can increase the water holding capacity of the soil by 25,000 gallons per acre. So even though it is a slow process, the smallest changes can make a big difference.
The Grand Valley State University’s Annis Water Resources Institute (AWRI) has been monitoring conditions within the watershed since 2014, helping evaluate how conditions are changing in the streams and in Lake Macatawa. One tool that they have been using is called a sonde (pictured below). A sonde is an instrument that sits in the stream, takes recordings of particular water quality measurements and stores them electronically. These are helpful readings that give a better picture of how quickly conditions change in the watershed and do not require someone standing in the stream to take the measurements every ten minutes!
One issue that we run into is needing to retrieve the data from the sonde, which requires someone manually downloading the information and checking on the condition of the equipment. Project Clarity was approached by Twisthink, a local design and prototype firm, and their partners at OST in Grand Rapids about implementing a wireless solution to our data retrieval issue. Using a new Internet of Things (IOT) network and a cellular antenna, their team is piloting the system using the two sondes Project Clarity already has deployed to measure total suspended solids (particles that float in the water). After testing, the live data will be available to our monitoring team as well as local schools wanting to discuss water quality in class.
We hope to use this technology at sites like our Peters Creek Restoration project, where we can monitor conditions remotely and have the ability to be notified of flooding and turbidity occurrences. Our design and permitting process continues on this streambank restoration project, incorporating feedback and survey data. We anticipate this project to be constructed in early summer 2019. The Peters Creek project is being funded in part by a grant from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
On August 23, the MACC hosted a green infrastructure seminar at CityFlatsHotel in Holland. The seminar was sponsored by the Ottawa County Water Resources Commissioner, Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr, & Huber, Inc. (FTCH), and the Grand Valley Metropolitan Council. This was the second annual Making the Case for Green Infrastructure seminar held in Holland. This year’s program focused on regulations and design standards related to stormwater management. Featured speakers were Claire Schwartz, FTCH, and Dennis Cole, Ottawa County Water Resources Office (pictured). They spoke at length about the county’s development rules for stormwater management. The current development rules are being updated and in the process of being finalized. Updated rules are already active in Muskegon County. Ottawa and Allegan County rules, along with City of Holland rules, will likely become active within the next 6 months. The Counties and City have all been working with Ms. Schwartz to maintain consistency in the rules as well as in the formatting of the documents. Additional topics of discussion at the seminar included municipal stormwater permits and local water quality efforts in the Kalamazoo River, Grand River and Macatawa Watersheds. A poster gallery was set up of various green infrastructure projects throughout the region.
The MACC will be working with Westcore Neighbors in early October to stencil storm drain messages in their neighborhood. These messages are reminders to those that live or travel through the neighborhood that storm drains are connected to our local rivers and lakes and that only rain should go down the drain. Door hangers with more information will be left at houses on the streets where storm drains are stenciled. The MACC has seven storm drain stenciling kits that contain all the materials necessary for a neighborhood or community group to do their own stenciling project. These kits are available to borrow from the MACC. Included are instructions for making your stencils successful and handouts to leave at nearby households. MACC staff can also train and supervise volunteers if desired. Contact our office for more information or to schedule your storm drain stenciling project!
The picture at the left shows the typical stenciling kit contents. Not pictured are the handouts, instructions and clipboard, a stencil carrying case, and extra cardboard to protect the storm drain and nearby cars from paint overspray.
The 2018 Macatawa Water Festival was held on July 14, 2018 at Windmill Island. Grey skies and a passing rain shower may have kept the crowd a bit smaller this year, but learning abounded and fun was had by all who attended! Many popular activities were back, including live critters, trout fishing, kayaking, the gabagouache, and rain barrel and wood duck box building workshops. New this year were activities from Culture Works, 20 Liters, Good Sweet Earth, Noodles and Company, and Seppo Chiropractic. Macatawa Watershed Project activities included a game to learn about litter in our water and puzzles about litter and stormwater (pictured). All of our interns were on hand for the day to help out with these activities. We greatly appreciated their help along with the help of various other volunteers throughout the festival. In total, there were 18 partners that shared hands-on activities and 13 additional partners financially supported the festival. If you missed the festival this year, be sure to mark your calendar for next year. We hope to see you there!