Rein in the Runoff

The communities in the Spring Lake watershed enjoy a picturesque waterfront setting adjacent to the five-mile long Spring Lake and just inland from Lake Michigan. Yet this attractive location also poses challenges, particularly after heavy rains. On these occasions, stormwater runoff carries pollutants into Spring Lake and eventually into Lake Michigan, where it impairs water quality and threatens aquatic life.

As increasing amounts of natural land are converted to impervious surfaces such as roads and buildings, rainwater that was once absorbed naturally into the soil must flow into storm drains, pipes and canals, and ultimately into nearby rivers and lakes. This stormwater runoff often picks up and transports nutrients, pathogens, sediment and other contaminants. As a result, algae blooms, beach closings, no-contact (to water) advisories, and lost recreational opportunities have become more common in Spring Lake and many parts of Michigan.

Studying Runoff in the Spring Lake Watershed
In 2007, Michigan Sea Grant funded a research team to identify ways to reduce run-off in the Spring Lake watershed in west Michigan. The project was led by Alan Steinman and Elaine Sterrett Isely from Grand Valley State University’s Annis Water Resources Institute. Researchers worked closely with town managers, planning commission members, stormwater managers, and residents to assess the problem and evaluate possible solutions. Ultimately, Spring Lake watershed can serve as model for communities around the Great Lakes that struggle with stormwater runoff issues.

Project Results
Through regular consultation with community leaders, the research team developed a variety of useful planning tools. These resources are listed along the right side of this page and can be applied in towns around the Great Lakes.  Some of the highlights include:

A Comparison of Potential Stormwater Solutions
The project team analyzed a range of options for reducing run-off that have been successfully implemented in other communities in Michigan and throughout the country. Chapter 4 compares structural Best Management Practices (BMPs), such as rain gardens and pervious pavement, and evaluates the use of non-structural BMPs like ordinances. Chapter 5 estimates the cost and effectiveness of the structural BMP alternatives. For example, they found that installing and maintaining vegetative swales and constructed wetlands is actually cheaper overall than using traditional stormwater management techniques.

Citizens Guide to Stormwater
The Citizens Guide is an abbreviated version of the full project report, targeting the residents of the Spring Lake Watershed. It summarizes the project and provides information directly relevant to how individuals can manage and control stormwater runoff associated with their own activities.

Model Ordinances and Performance Standards
Appendices G through J include guidance for towns interested in making rules about animal waste and waterfowl, creating incentives for low impact development, and establishing stormwater utilities. Model ordinances are provided that can be easily modified and adopted by municipal governments around the Great Lakes.

Grant Resources
Chapter 7 includes a description of potential funding sources for stormwater management, low impact development, or other nonpoint source pollution control projects. 

Spring Lake Watershed Atlas
The Watershed Atlas includes all the maps created to explain and visualize stormwater in the Spring Lake Watershed, including soil type, land use, population growth projections, and runoff estimates for different areas of the watershed. Maps also identify good locations for installing new BMPs, such as constructed wetlands or riparian buffers. With funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Grand Haven Community Foundation, the research team assessed shoreline areas and wetlands, which are also presented in the atlas.

Wetlands Assessment
Maps of the watershed illustrate where existing wetlands should be protected and where wetland restoration could occur to improve downstream water quality. 

Spring Lake Shoreline Assessment
Maps of Spring Lake indicate where the shoreline is still in a natural state and which areas could be improved to reduce runoff. 

Guiding Decisions
The Rein in the Run-off project is helping community leaders select the best options for reducing stormwater run-off in their area.

“What was good was that they took existing ideas and made them applicable to our area. The researchers used their expertise to determine what might be the best solutions for our community. This tailored approach was really useful.”
– John Nash, Spring Lake Township Supervisor

“We were working on our master plan while this project was going on. We incorporated the findings from the project into the master plan in the form of incentives for developers to manage stormwater on site better.”
– John Nash, Spring Lake Township Supervisor

“The Final Report and the storm water management ordinance will be really useful. We have the final report on display in the lobby, the ordinance is under Planning Commission review.”
– Ryan Cotton, Village of Spring Lake Manager