Water Quality Monitoring

Recent Data

The State of Michigan monitors phosphorus and other water quality indicators in Lake Macatawa and selected streams every other year. This helps measure progress toward improving Lake Macatawa’s water quality. Excess phosphorus can cause algae growth, which makes the water unsuitable for many fish and unpleasant for recreational use. The most recent report from the State is the 2012 report. The 2014 report is being processed and will be posted to our website when available.

The GVSU Annis Water Resources Institute (AWRI) has also been monitoring Lake Macatawa and selected streams. This is financially supported by Project Clarity and will be used to gauge the overall health of Lake Macatawa and the effectiveness of Project Clarity restorations.

2014 AWRI report
2015 AWRI report            2015 AWRI dashboard
2016 AWRI report
            2016 AWRI dashboard

2014 AWRI presentation (given at 2015 Macatawa Watershed Annual Meeting)
2015 AWRI presentation (given at 2016 Macatawa Watershed Annual Meeting)

Aquatic Macroinvertebrates

Carolyn Ulstad (left) and volunteer collecting macroinvertebrates in Noordeloos Creek at the Macatawa Greenspace.

Carolyn Ulstad (left) and volunteer collecting macroinvertebrates in Noordeloos Creek at the Macatawa Greenspace.

Aquatic macroinvertebrates are water bugs that do not have a backbone and that we can see with our naked eye. They include insects, crustaceans, clams, mussels, and snails. They vary in shape and size, but all live in the water for at least a portion of their life cycle. Their survival depends on clean water. They are also a crucial food source for fish which makes them an important part of the aquatic ecosystem. Different types of water bugs have varying sensitivities to water pollution. We examine the abundance and types of water bugs present in a stream to get a general idea of the health of that stream. Most water bugs live in the stream bottom among rocks, under logs or in leaf packs, making them relatively easy collect with a net. It’s also inexpensive to collect and process water bugs and something that is easily done with the help of volunteers.

The MACC partners with the Outdoor Discovery Center Macatawa Greenway to monitor water bug populations at 7 locations in the Macatawa Watershed twice a year. Our monitoring program started in the Fall of 2012 and we intend to continue well into the future. Contact Kelly at kgoward@the-macc.org if you are interested in helping with this effort and we will add you to our volunteer list. Below is a summary of the data collected since 2012:

It is too soon to draw conclusions from the data it represents a short time period. What we can see is variability at a site over time and across sites for any given event. Some of this is natural due to seasonality (sampling occurs in spring and fall to capture different species during life cycle stages), weather conditions or streamflow.

Suspended Sediment Sampling Projectsediment sampler in the Macatawa Watershed

The Macatawa Watershed Project began working with Hope College and the Outdoor Discovery Center Macatawa Greenway in Spring 2011 to collect samples of suspended sediment at 43 locations in the watershed. The intensive monitoring project was funded by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality with the support of private donations. The funding allowed us to construct our own sampling equipment (pictured at right).

Sediment enters our local waterways via streambank erosion and surface runoff during rain events. It is important to study sediment because phosphorus is often attached to sediment. The monitoring allows us to measure how much sediment is coming from different parts of the watershed. Knowing where the sediment comes from helps us take corrective actions where they are most needed. The data collected was used to rank the major tributaries from worst to best in terms of how much sediment was collected in each. The map below shows the 8 major tributaries numbered 1-8, 1 indicating the most amount of sediment and 8 indicating the least. The pink dots represent the relative amount of sediment collected based on the amount of contributing area.

Subwatershed ranking

Volunteer Secchi Disk Monitoring

sechhi diskSeveral volunteers collect water transparency data at designated locations in the watershed once a week during the open water season. Transparency is measured using a Secchi disk, an 8-inch, circular, black and white metal plate attached to a calibrated rope. The volunteer lowers the disk into the water until it is no longer visible and notes that depth from the markings on the rope. The disk is then lowered a little further and then raised back up until it is just visible. This second depth reading is averaged with the first, and the final number is recorded on a data sheet.

using a schhei diskThis measure estimates the clarity of the water. Water transparency is a quick and easy measurement that tells scientists a lot about a lake’s water quality. First, it indicates the amount of light penetration into a lake. Second, Secchi transparency provides an indirect measure of the amount of suspended material in the water. Changes in transparency over time can be an important indicator that a change in water quality is occurring.

Secchi disk measurements provide objective means to evaluate water clarity versus subjective statements such as “It is clear,” or “It is muddy.” One person’s clear water may be another person’s muddy water.

We are always looking for additional volunteers! Contact the MACC to learn more about becoming a part of the volunteer monitoring program.

Testing water qualitysechii disk in the waterClick here to see the MACC’s Secchi data through 2013 that is collected at 4 locations weekly throughout the spring and summer months by our local volunteers.


The graph below summarizes the annual average Secchi depth from 2002 through 2016 at four locations in Lake Macatawa. The overall trend seems to indicate that the Secchi depth is decreasing, meaning that the clarity of the lake is decreasing. Increasing Secchi depth would indicate improved water clarity.

Paw Paw = the Macatawa River accessed at Paw Paw Park
Dunton = Lake Macatawa accessed at Dunton Park
Channel = Channel to Lake Michigan accessed from the Holland State Park