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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Michigan: Talking with Farmers - The North Branch Chippewa River 319 Watershed Project


Talking with Farmers -
The North Branch Chippewa River 319 Watershed Project

The North Branch of the Chippewa River, located in the center of Michigan's lower peninsula, forms a subwatershed of the Saginaw Bay basin. The North Branch begins in Isabella County and flows into the Chippewa River near Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.

Land use in the 49,000-acre watershed is 78 percent agricultural, including a mixture of dairy, beef, and rowcrop farming. Row crops are grown on 33,000 acres or 67 percent of the watershed (87 percent of the agricultural area) and livestock are found on 100 (53 percent) of the roughly 189 farms in the watershed.

Clay soils and rolling typography, along with an intensive network of agricultural drainage tiles, lead to unstable flows - to high water velocities that transport large quantities of nutrients and suspended solids during storm events. Excessive rainfall or a heavy snowmelt only intensifies the problem.

First Steps The Isabella County Soil Conservation District received a section 319 planning grant for the watershed in 1990. Since the Conservation District's primary goal was to reduce sediment, phosphorus, and fecal coliform levels in the North Branch, it began the project by surveying the watershed to identify the major sources of these pollutants. The district's watershed planner walked all the tributaries in the watershed and recorded and ranked sources of nonpoint pollution on aerial photos. In addition, the district hosted local advisory meetings to promote awareness and participation.

The water quality problems were sediments, nutrients (particularly phosphorus), and fecal coliform. The sediments and nutrients derived mainly from soil erosion on row-cropped fields, while uncontrolled cattle access was a source of fecal coliform. Fully 25 river miles and 26 miles of tributaries were affected. The basis for ranking the nonpoint sources on the aerial photos was the watershed planner's experience and expertise in recognizing and diagnosing the problems and solutions. In effect, each problem area was scored in the field as low, medium, or high priority in consideration of the project's overall goals.

Once the priority sources were identified, the watershed planner contacted individual landowners and met with them at their farmsteads. During these meetings, the planner proposed an appropriate system of farming practices that would address all known and potential nonpoint sources - and meet the landowners' specific farming needs.

The watershed planner identified the priority areas and actively sought farmers in these areas to develop plans for implementing best management practices (BMPs). In other watersheds (i.e., those that were not designated as priority areas), those interested in participating in the program contacted the district to sign up for cost-share funding. The "one-on-one" interaction with landowners in the priority areas contributed greatly to the project's overall success.

Reducing loadings result

Implementation of BMPs began in 1991 and continued for three years. During this time, the project installed 49 erosion control structures, over 7 miles of fencing, numerous stream crossings, 24 acres of filter strips, a grassed waterway, 0.5 miles of diversions, an agricultural waste management system, over 17 acres of critical area seeding, and 2.7 miles of streambank stabilization that included seven in-stream check dams. All livestock in the North Branch of the Chippewa River are now restricted by fencing from access to the main tributaries.

These structural practices have prevented 12,015 tons of sediment from entering the North Branch; they have also saved an estimated 6,248 pounds of phosphorus and 78 pounds of nitrogen.

CONTACT: Amy Peterson
Nonpoint Source Unit Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
(517) 373-2037

Saving Michigan's Blue Ribbon Trout Stream -
The Boardman River Project

In 1992, the Grand Traverse Soil Conservation District received a section 319 grant to treat streambanks and road crossings that were contributing sediment to the Boardman River, a 295-square-mile blue ribbon trout stream located in northwest lower Michigan. To ensure that the diversity of river users would be honored, the District developed a steering committee that topped 200 members, including local townships, numerous state and county agencies, communications companies, utilities, recreational groups, a regional land conservancy, construction companies, and other businesses.

Working together for almost four years, these partners stabilized 96 sites on the Boardman River and, as a result, prevented over 1,200 tons of sand from entering the system each year. To maximize resources, the District worked with the Michigan Department of Corrections to obtain prison labor for the project. They also used numerous bioengineering practices to further stretch their 319 funding. Bioengineering practices used included:

  • transferring native plants from elsewhere in the watershed to the site needing vegetation,
  • using whole tree revetments at the toe of some slopes,
  • using log cribbing to terrace a steep slope,
  • bringing vegetation to near the water's edge, and
  • planting vegetation with rock riprap.

These practices stabilized the sites at a lower cost than traditional rock structures and helped blend the new sites into the surrounding landscape.

Other practices also proved useful in the Boardman River. For example, working with fisheries managers, the District added fish lunkers to several of the sites to help provide habitat for trout. The wooden lunkers were installed at the toe of a bank, covered over with rock and topsoil, then seeded. Amazingly, the sites with lunkers look no different than sites without lunkers.

And - a final example - using composted leaves became a regular practice for the District. The leaves were donated by Traverse City and mixed into the soil prior to seeding or hand planting vegetation. This practice has been especially helpful on south-facing sandy slopes where it is usually difficult to get vegetation to grow.

Ongoing and long-term management

Having addressed the primary sources of sediment in the watershed, the District installed and developed long-term agreements with individuals and groups to maintain four sand traps, each of which, when cleaned, will remove an additional 1,000 tons of sand from the river.

To promote the watershed restoration efforts, the District also developed an information/education campaign that included watershed brochures, a project display, T-shirts, an educational video, and three 30-second public service announcements (PSAs).

The educational video, entitled "Currents of the Boardman," was filmed and produced by a local utility company, MichCon, which also filmed and produced the PSAs. The PSAs have been aired over 1,000 times on local television.

Now that 319 funding has ended, the District has joined forces with the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy and local businesses to continue the project. The Conservancy is a nonprofit land protection organization that has already worked with local landowners to protect nearly 600 acresin the Boardman River watershed. Inaddition, an endowment fund for the Boardman River has been established through the Conservancy. The interestfrom this fund will provide for the long-term management of the Boardman River system.

CONTACTS: Steve Largent
Boardman River Project Director
616 941-0960

Amy Peterson
Nonpoint Source Unit Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
(517) 373-2037

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