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New Grants for Water Quality Restoration
Bidding Farewell to our Summer Interns
Project Clarity Update
Green Stormwater Infrastructure
Road-Stream Crossing Inventories: Year 2
The MACC was recently award two small grants from the Great Lakes Commission’s Great Lakes Sediment and Nutrient Reduction Program. The two projects will focus on in‐stream practices as opposed to land‐based practices like the MACC has implemented under previous grants from the Great Lakes Commission and the current grant from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Both grants will be managed by the MACC in partnership with the Outdoor Discovery Center Macatawa Greenway. Matching funds will be provided by both partners and also by Project Clarity. Both project start on October 1 and will conclude within 3 years.
One of the small grants will provide $49,707 to support the installation of streambank restoration at 2 or 3 locations in Peters Creek or Noordeloos Creek. Streambanks can be source of sediment to Lake Macatawa if not properly stabilized and protected with vegetation. The project team will spend this fall and winter securing designs and seeking contractors to do the work. As much as possible, natural restoration techniques will be used similar to what was done at Paw Paw Footbridge Park in 2014. If things progress as anticipated, projects may be installed as early as summer/fall 2018.
The second small grant will provide $49,967 towards the installation of two‐stage ditches in the Upper
Macatawa, Peters Creek or Noordeloos Creek areas of the watershed. Similar to streambank restoration, two‐stage ditches help to stabilize streambanks and reduce sediment transport to the lake. However, two‐stage ditches are typically installed in agricultural drainage ditches with a history of alteration. As shown in the image at the left, a second stage is excavated above the main channel and stabilized with permanent vegetation. This widens the entire ditch and allows for increased capacity during rain events, which can reduce flooding in the adjacent farm fields. Several two‐stage ditches have been installed in the watershed with Project Clarity funding. This grant will progress similar to the streambank project in that this fall and winter will be spent planning projects with the goal of construction during summer/fall 2018.
The MACC was grateful to have had the assistance of two wonderful interns from Grand Valley State University this summer. We greatly appreciate all the work that they helped us do and they will be missed! Read below to learn more about their personal experience with the MACC this summer.
Madeline: “My internship at the MACC has provided me with invaluable experience for my future. It also introduced me to the extraordinary staff at the MACC, my fellow intern Tony, and other peers and professionals within my field. Throughout the summer, Tony and I were given the opportunity to attend meetings, work at community events, make educational materials, lead volunteer groups, work with data in ArcGIS, learn more about agriculture, and attend the green infrastructure seminar. Making educational materials and working at the community events were the most fulfilling parts of the internship, and has lead me to a stronger understanding of what I want to do post undergraduate. Leading volunteer groups was challenging for me; however, the experience was very beneficial. I am now starting my final year of college, and because of this internship I am taking classes in public administration, volunteerism, non‐profit management, and regional/urban planning. I am extremely grateful for the experience this internship provided, as well as the direction and goals it has helped me realize.”
Tony: “Interning at the MACC has been one of the most rewarding summers I’ve had. I learned what it is like to work for an environmental organization and experienced its daily operations while working for what I’m passionate about. I’m not from Holland, so I did not have much knowledge of the area. However, this summer has taught me the culture of the city, the kindness of their residents, and the community’s commitment towards keeping their natural resources healthy for future generations. I look forward to working with you all in the near future as your neighbor from Grand Rapids.”
Cover crops are taking off in the watershed. We have seen a big jump in growers signing cover crop contracts under our Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant. But when we say they are taking off, we really mean it. Early in September, several of our participating growers had cover crop seed applied to their fields using airplanes. Around 200 acres of the nearly 1,100 newly contracted acres were applied using two crop duster style airplanes. Applying seed with airplanes is only one of the many ways cover crops are planted.
What are Cover Crops? Cover crops simply put are a crop that is planted to protect the soil and add diversity to a croprotation. As the use of cover crops has gained in popularity, the varieties and species of cover crops have also grown. Different kinds of cover crops do different things and interact with the soil and available nutrients in different ways. One farmer’s reason for planting cover crops may be different than another’s. For example, a farmer may plant a cover crop to protect the soil from erosion. Another may plant a cover crop to help fight soil compaction. Some plant cover crops to scavenge essential nutrients and make them available to the following cash crop. We even see some growers planting cover crops in an effort to suppress undesirable and harder to kill weeds. Regardless of the reason, cover crops are an important tool for water quality protection.
Methods of planting. There are many thoughts on what is the best cover crop for any given application. Likewise, there are a variety of thoughts on the best ways to get those cover crops into the fields. As already mentioned, using airplanes is one unique way. Many of the time‐tested and proven methods work as well, but as we will find, they are all dependent on current conditions, the most important being weather.
Drilling. Seed drills have been used for many years as a planting method. Drills plant seeds in neat rows and can be set to plant at a selected depth. Seed germination is typically very good with a drill and little seed is wasted. Drilling works well when cover crops can be planted early in the season. For example, some farmers apply manure after a wheat harvest, which is incorporated into the soil withtillage. This occurs in summer leaving the soil exposed until the next spring. Protecting the soil with cover crops will reduce the potential for erosion and protect water quality. Farmers who did this in the Macatawa Watershed this year planted a variety of tillage radish (pictured above). Radishes help to break up soil compaction and fix some nitrogen making it available to the following crop.
Broadcasting Seed. Broadcasting includes planting methods that result in the seed being scattered on the soil surface. Seeding rate is often higher with broadcasting compared to drilling since seed placed on the surface does not always germinate as well as seed planted with a drill or incorporated into the soil. Broadcast seeds germinate better when followed by rain. The following are a few of the numerous ways of broadcasting cover crop seed.
There are a handful of farmers, none in our watershed yet, who have mounted air powered seeders to broadcast seed from their combines as they are harvesting corn or beans. These machines have air powered nozzles that shoot the seed out under the head of the combine. Taking care of your harvest and your cover crop seeding at the same time is an effective method of getting seed into the field.
Seed can also be broadcast into a standing crop field early in the season by inter seeding. Inter seeding refers to a method of broadcasting seed onto the ground between the rows of corn or beans. The inter seeders you might see around the watershed are lifted tractors with tall narrow tires. They were or are used to spray crops but have been converted permanently or temporarily to an inter seeder. Using air, they blow seed out along booms and through tubes where the seed is deposited onto the ground in between the rows of the corn or beans. Using these inter seeders, farmers are able to plant cover crops earlier giving them more time to establish and be more effective. Some growers are reluctant to plant cover crops too early in the season for fear of robbing nutrients from their growing crops. Cover crops that are well established can also be difficult to terminate in the spring.
Airplanes are probably the most thrilling way to broadcast cover crop seed. Airplanes are able to cover large areas quickly. They can put seed into fields if it is too wet to run tractors or spreader trucks. Airplanes are not always as effective on irregular shaped fields or fields that have crops with thick canopy. They do allow you to plant seed earlier in the season.
Farmers typically choose a method of planting cover crops that best suits their management style. As mentioned previously, weather plays an important factor when timing the planting of seed. If wet weather pushes harvest back too far, there might not be enough warm days for proper germination. Regardless of the method chosen to plant or species and variety of a cover crop planted, cover crops can and do have a positive impact on the quality of our water.
With all of the artificial changes to streams that have gone on in our watershed since settlers arrived, it shouldn’t be surprising that we are left to deal with unintended consequences. Many of our streams experience sudden and rapid flooding, including the North Branch of the Macatawa River in Laketown Township. This area has experienced periodic flooding of roads and neighborhoods due to too much water entering the waterways at once, the result of development and the removal of wetlands. Late this summer, a project just off of US‐31 has been constructed to help deal with some of these unintended consequences.
The Outdoor Discovery Center Macatawa Greenway, the Allegan County Drain Commissioner’s Office and the Michigan Department of Transportation have partnered on this project to improve water quality and alleviate flooding along the North Branch corridor. A sixteen acre site in Laketown Township was acquired for the construction of a detention basin to help store and slow floodwater. The gully‐marked hillside is being transformed into a shallow‐slope basin filled with native wetland plants that will help remove pollutants. The section of the stream that runs through the site is being transformed into a two‐stage channel. Both of these features will help to blunt and spread out the peak of the flooding.
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The MACC hosted a seminar about green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) at the Haworth Inn and Conference Center on August 22, 2017. The 41 attendees were able to hear from 7 speakers throughout the day and visit with 7 exhibitors to learn more about green stormwater infrastructure. About half of the attendees stayed after the seminar to walk around the Hope College campus and see some green stormwater infrastructure that was installed within the last few years. The MACC would like to thank everyone that helped to make this day possible including all that attended, Project Clarity for sponsoring the event, the exhibitors, the speakers, and our planning committee. Missed the seminar? You can view the presentations and more photos from the event on our website.
Green stormwater infrastructure has the potential to play a large role in improving the quality of Lake Macatawa in the Holland/Zeeland urbanized area. These practices collect and filter stormwater in a way that mimics nature. Many use the natural talents of plants to intercept, infiltrate and evapotranspirate rainwater. Other non‐vegetative GSI techniques allow for increased infiltration of rainwater and reduced runoff. Whatever the type, we would like to see more GSI used in the watershed to protect Lake Macatawa.
The MACC received a grant last fall from the Community Foundation of the Holland Zeeland Area to, among other tasks, develop a green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) vision for the Macatawa Watershed. Many elements will be included in that vision, but the ultimate end product will be a document that summarizes the current status of GSI, opportunities for future GSI and actions that are needed to encourage continued and increased use of GSI in the watershed. Public input will be important to this vision. A draft of the vision will be presented at a public meeting on Tuesday, November 14, 6‐8:30pm at the GVSU Meijer Campus (515 S. Waverly, Holland). All are invited to attend. Contact our office for more information. Your RSVP is appreciated but not required.
The MACC started a new volunteer program in May 2016 to inventory road‐stream crossings in the watershed. Road-stream crossings, if undersized or misaligned, can be a source of erosion or an impediment to fish passage. Not a lot is known historically about the road‐stream crossings in the watershed, so the data collected during the inventories will help us identify crossings that are problematic for erosion or fish and help us prioritize restoration work. This project is being done with the cooperation our of county Water Resources and Drain Commissioner’s Offices and the county Road Commissions. During the first year of this program, the MACC was able to inventory 57 road‐stream crossings with the assistance of 33 fabulous volunteers. With around 600 crossings in the watershed, we hope to inventory about 50 every year.
This past summer, our interns spent quite a bit of their time working on this project. They scouted sites ahead of scheduling inventories, prepared fact sheets about the sites, lead groups of volunteers in completing inventories, and assisted with data entry. With their help, we were able to inventory 40 road‐stream crossings on 3 separate days with 38 volunteers, all but 2 of which were new to the program!
Once data entry is complete for all the inventories that have been finished, we will take a look at all 97 inventory results and see which sites scored the worst for erosion and fish passage. We will review these sites with the road and drain offices and work together to develop a plan to address the problems.