Watershed Education

The Thornapple River Watershed Management Plan

The Thornapple River Watershed Management Plan (TRWMP) is a report on the Thornapple River Watershed (TRW) that compiles data on water quality and discusses plans to address the needs of the watershed. Data used in the report was collected throughout the 1990s and 2000s and the plan was approved in June of 2016. The purpose of the TRWMP is to provide information and encourage action to address impairments in the TRW and protect our water resources.  Within the TRWMP you can find data on the Thornapple river and its sub-watersheds that includes uses, impairments, sources of pollution, and objectives. With an approved watershed management plan in place, the Barry Conservation District was able to begin applying for watershed grants to fund implementation in the TRW. The first implementation grant was recently received by the BCD via the EPA’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and work is already underway to begin addressing impairments in the watershed.

What is happening in your watershed?

Water quality has been popping up on the news a lot lately and it may have you wondering what is being done to protect your water locally. The Barry Conservation District has recently been awarded a grant through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to fund Thornapple River Watershed Management Plan implementation. This grant provides the funding for the Conservation District to be able to assist farmers and landowners in implementing agricultural Best Management Practices (BMPs) and proper septic system maintenance to improve the water quality in our community.

Given the predominately rural nature of Barry county, the main focuses of the grant are agriculture and on-site waste water treatment (septic systems). On the land management side, we have funds available to help farmers and landowners implement practices such as filter strips, cattle fencing along streams and planting of cover crops just to name a few.  Alternatively, at the home owner level, we are offering funding to cover voluntary septic system inspections to look for failing septic systems as well as a cost share option to replace or repair any problem septic systems to help ease the financial burden of such a task. The project scope covers over 57,000 acres in three of the most impaired sub-watersheds in the Thornapple River watershed: Mud Creek, Fish Creek, and Milbourn Drain. The main goal of this project is to reduce pollutants within the watershed such as nutrients, sediment and E. coli.

By accomplishing these goals, we will be contributing to better water health not only locally but downstream as well. This eventually leads to positive impacts all the way up to the Great Lakes level. With voluntary community support, we hope to work together with farmers and landowners to ensure clean water for many generations to come.

Non-point Source pollution: Who’s problem is it?

Pollution sources can be sorted into two categories, point and non-point source. As you can guess from the name, point source pollution has a single, identifiable source from which it is emanating. That fact makes point source pollution easy to locate, and therefore easier to correct. On the other hand, non-point source pollution can be far harder to identify and address. This is because there is generally never a cut-and-dry answer as to where this type of pollution is originating from.

The blame for non-point source pollution gets thrown around frequently, bouncing from wild animal waste, agricultural runoff, and faulty or outdated septic systems. While some truth lies in these claims, it is not an issue that can be blamed on one source. In reality it is a combination of these sources and it is up to all of us as a community to work together for the health of our watershed. By working together as a community to implement sound agricultural Best Management Practices and addressing our failing septic systems, we can positively impact our non-point source pollution problem locally.

The Importance of Water Health in Michigan

Michigan is blessed with 3,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, over 11,000 inland lakes, 30,000 miles of navigable rivers, and millions of acres of wetlands. It comes at no surprise that water is on the minds of many a Michigander. And so, too, should water quality. After all, healthy waterways are vital to the economy, recreation opportunities, and our own health and well-being.

Michigan’s economy depends on water. According to michiganblueeconomy.org, 1 in 5 jobs in Michigan are water-related. Our Great Lakes provide ample shipping opportunities. Rain and groundwater give life to our crops and our streams carry away excess water, making more land tillable. Water-based tourism and recreation define what it means to be in “Pure Michigan.”

Whether taking a dip in Lake Michigan, visiting waterfalls in the Upper Peninsula, hitting your favorite stream for the trout opener, or even hitting the slopes in winter, water is a big part of recreation in Michigan. Ask just about anyone and they will tell you that recreation and water are almost synonymous in our state.

Water quality has been popping up on the news a lot lately, and there are many examples of why water quality is so important to our health and well-being. Hazardous chemicals, bacteria and other pathogens, and nutrients can very easily enter our water undetected and cause major health issues and negative environmental impacts. It is up to each of us to protect our water resources and ensure that we have safe water for drinking and other personal uses far into the future.

Whatever water means to you, we can all agree that it is a resource that deserves our care and attention. Throughout the county and state you can find groups, like the Barry Conservation District, that are committed to protecting our water for future generations.

Watersheds and the Water Cycle

Many of us may recall learning about the water cycle and watersheds in a science class back in grade school, but what we may not understand is how important these things are to our daily lives. Let’s start with a little refresher course on the water cycle, what a watershed is, and how what happens within our watershed can impact us.

The water cycle is the process that water goes through as it moves throughout the ground, air and surface of Earth. The basics of the water cycle are evaporation into the atmosphere from surface water; precipitation from the atmosphere in the form of rain or snow; and groundwater recharge from surface water filtering through the soil to the water table. The constant movement of water means that once a pollutant gets in to our water cycle, it can move throughout the entire watershed very easily.

So, what exactly is a watershed? A watershed is all the land (and everything on top of it) in a given area over which water collects and flows to a common waterbody such as a large river or a lake. In Barry county we have five major watersheds: Thornapple, Coldwater, Gun, Kalamazoo and Battle Creek.

Pollutants on the land can be carried to streams, rivers, and lakes by rain. This polluted runoff impacts the rest of the watershed downstream. In this way, different land uses and management decisions can have big impacts on the quality of the water we all use. The Thornapple River Watershed provides water for agricultural irrigation, recreation, wildlife habitat, and more. Small choices in our daily lives, especially in our home and land management decisions, can go a long way in keeping our water clean.

Land uses can vary greatly across a watershed: some are heavily developed and urbanized, while others, are primarily rural agricultural land.  Each land use type has its own unique challenges when it comes to watershed health. The good news is that by understanding our water resources and with a little planning, we can manage our watersheds so that they stay clean and healthy for future generations to come.

CRP Enrollment now open

If you have been thinking about installing conservation practices on your farm land, now is the time to do it! As of June 4th, 2018 the Farm Service Agency (FSA) has opened enrollment for the Continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

Background: CRP was established in 1985 as a voluntary land conservation program to help landowners and farmers protect water quality and reduce soil erosion all while providing great habitat for wildlife. It has been hugely successful and is currently the largest private-land conservation program in the U.S.

How it works: Interested landowners and farmers can apply for enrollment in CRP by visiting their local FSA office now through August 17th, 2018. To be eligible, landowners must have owned or operated the land for at least the last 12 months and the land must have been in agricultural production for four of the six years from 2008 to 2013. With the Continuous CRP, landowners are automatically accepted if they meet all eligibility criteria; there is no competitive bidding as with other conservation programs. By enrolling in CRP, landowners agree to a contract with FSA to keep the land in the program for the next 10-15 years. Every year, program participants receive a rental payment on the acres enrolled in the program to help offset the income lost by taking that ground out of agricultural production. FSA also provides up to 50% cost-share for the installation of these practices. In addition, the Barry Conservation District has a program in place to provide additional financial support to supplement CRP cost share in the Mud Creek, Fish Creek and Milbourn Drain sub-watersheds. The practices eligible for additional support include grass waterways, filter strips, and riparian buffers.

The Low-down: CRP is instrumental in protecting soil and water quality, as well as providing habitat for wildlife. This program provides landowners an option to protect habitat and the environment without losing out on income by pulling tillable land out of production. If you have thought about enrolling with CRP, now is the time.