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Among Michigan's Citizen-Led Restoration Projects, Three Noteworthy Models

Focus on results

December 1, 1999 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Across Michigan, local governments, researchers, and civic groups are collaborating to reduce pollution from runoff by changing how land is used in watersheds.

The Clinton River Watershed Council, for example, manages an extensive program of research, water quality monitoring, and public education throughout the river's watershed in Oakland and Macomb counties. The Conservation Resource Alliance in Traverse City recently assisted lake associations and local governments with putting a management plan into effect for the 500-square mile Elk River Chain of Lakes watershed, which encompasses four counties and 18 townships in northern Michigan.

The state's watershed projects are financed by private foundations, local governments, and federal clean water funds administered by the state Department of Environmental Quality. Since 1990, $20 million in public funding has been spent on roughly 70 watershed protection projects in Michigan.

The strength of the program is the focus on prevention. However the projects are occurring largely in isolation from each other. And there is no coordinated public policy advocacy, especially to compel the Legislature to halt sprawl, the primary threat to watersheds in Michigan.

Watershed protection groups are repairing eroding shorelines, enhancing water quality monitoring, improving disposal of pollutants and storm water, restoring sport fisheries, and informing residents and public officials. In an increasing number of projects, townships and counties are enacting new land use regulations to require buffer zones of natural vegetation along streams and lakes, to move buildings and parking lots away from sensitive natural areas, to protect wetlands, and to improve storm water management.

Here are three noteworthy model projects:

Fleming Creek Watershed Restoration - Washtenaw County -

In 1994 the Huron River Watershed Council, the East Michigan Environmental Action Council, and the Washtenaw County Drain Commissioner assisted three townships in forming the Fleming Creek Advisory Council to respond to rapid development and the threat to natural resources in northern and eastern Washtenaw County.

Activities of the FCAC included reviewing and advising three townships -- Ann Arbor, Salem and Superior -- regarding development proposals, holding public meetings to inform citizens about the affect of their behavior on the quality of the creek, and drafting regulations for local governments to use in protecting natural resources.

All three townships enacted ordinances to protect wetlands from being filled or drained for development. Two of the townships established regulations requiring setbacks from natural features such as wetlands, watercourses, and steep slopes. Rules to protect open space also were enacted.

The Advisory Council is completing a management plan for the 31-square mile Fleming Creek Watershed. It calls for uniform regulation, in all three townships, of land uses that are likely to affect the watershed. CONTACTS: Libby Harris, East Michigan Environmental Action Council, 248-258-5188, E-mail <emeac@aol.com>; Joan Martin, Huron River Watershed Council, 734-769-5971, E-mail <jmartin@hrwc.org>.

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