Michiganders transform their land to improve water quality

Chuck has lived in Twin Lake, Michigan his whole life. For the last fifteen years, he and two partners have owned about 100 acres of wooded and farmed property that’s adjacent to his home. A stream called Ribe Drain runs through that land, and it’s one of nine tributaries of Bear Creek, which flows downstream into Bear Lake and its larger neighbor, Muskegon Lake, a recreational hub that Chuck and his family, like many residents in the region, have enjoyed for the fishing and boating.

For years, however, Bear and Muskegon Lakes’ recreation and fishing communities have suffered from increased pollution and sedimentation that originates from the watershed surrounding the lake and upstream sources, like lawns, leaking septic tanks, and agricultural fields. These harmful nutrients and sediment run off the land, seep through soils and groundwater, travel down waterways into Bear Lake, where they fuel excessive algae growth, robbing the water of oxygen and making it unlivable for fish and other critters.

Chuck Buzzell, property owner, and Kathy Evans of West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission discuss the wetland that will be on his land.

Chuck Buzzell, property owner, and Kathy Evans of West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission discuss the wetland that will be on his land.

That’s where we came into the picture. With funding awarded to Delta from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative we’re teaming up with local partners and stakeholders to help restore the health of Bear Lake.

Delta, along with West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission, Muskegon County Road Commission, Muskegon County Conservation District, Muskegon River Watershed Assembly, and Muskegon Lake Watershed Assembly are addressing downstream pollution issues at their source by teaming up with private and public landowners to add wetlands, reduce erosion, and limit the amount of nutrients and sediment flowing from urban and rural land into Bear Lake.

“Delta is excited to lead this project not only because of the substantial ecosystem benefits that it affords, but because it allows us the chance to collaborate with a number of stakeholders who truly care about the health of Bear Lake and have the willingness, ability, and passion to improve it,” said Delta’s Margaret Renas, who is leading this project.

“Most of the pollutants in this watershed are related to land use,” said Kathy Evans, our local partner and Environmental Program Manager at the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission. “There have been so many drains and ditches created to drain the land over time. In some areas, septic tanks are located very close to surface waters. With a high water table and sandy soils, whatever happens on the surface gets pulled down into the waterways.”

Kathy reached out to Chuck about participating in this project, because Ribe Drain is a significant source of the excess nutrients that end up in Muskegon Lake.

“I understand the work to clean Bear Lake and Muskegon Lake and work on reducing fertilizer loads and things that were coming into those lakes. So when Kathy asked us to transform some of our land [to a wetland], we agreed,” said Chuck Buzzell.

Chuck and his partners are currently working with Kathy to design and construct 0.75 acres of shallow wetlands on the property. When the installation is done, his wetland will have a variety of native plants, shrubs and trees. The trees help keep the water cool, and the plants will provide some wildlife habitat. The wetland will act like a sponge, capturing sediment, phosphorus, and other nutrients on one side, and slowly releasing the filtered water on another, improving downstream water quality.

Chuck represents one of several private landowners we’re working with who, by transforming their land, are making a huge positive impact on water quality in their region.

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