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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Michigan: Poterfield Creek

Excluding Cattle from Stream Area Reduces Phosphorus Input

Waterbody Improved

Agricultural runoff and direct access by livestock contributed phosphorus to an unnamed tributary of Poterfield Creek. High phosphorus levels, in turn, led to algal blooms in the tributary. As a result, Michigan's Department of Natural Resources and Environment (MDNRE) added the unnamed tributary to Michigan's Clean Water Act (CWA) section 303(d) list of impaired waters in 2002. The landowner installed cattle exclusion fencing and nuisance algae conditions declined. On the basis of those results, MDNRE has proposed to remove the Poterfield Creek tributary from the list of impaired waters in 2010.

Joe Rathbun
MIDEQ, Water Bureau

This map shows that Poterfield Creek is in Michigan, northwest of Green Bay.

Figure 1. Poterfield Creek flows into the lower Menominee River.
Larger version of map

This photo shows a wide, wet area trampled by livestock. Unvegetated hillside areas are visible in the distance.

Figure 2. Cows on the Berger Cattle Ranch trample a small stream in the early 1990s. A bare hillside with an uncovered manure storage area (back right of the photo) contributed pollution to the stream.

This photo shows the same area as Figure 2.  Now the livestock are gone and the area is revegetated.

Figure 3. The same site on Berger Cattle Ranch in 2005, after the landowner installed fencing. Note that the waterway is grassed, paddocks are fenced and bare hillslope in the background is revegetated.



Poterfield Creek drains into the lower Menominee River Watershed near the Village of Carney in Menominee County, Michigan. The Menominee River flows east and follows the boundary between the northeast corner of Wisconsin and the southern tip of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan before emptying into Lake Michigan's Green Bay (Figure 1). The topography in the Menominee River basin was formed and heavily altered by periodic glaciation, the most recent of which was the Wisconsin period (10,000-20,000 years ago). The region is characterized by lakes, glacial plains, end moraines, and poorly integrated east to west drainage. Because of the extensive amount of glacial activity, the Menominee basin consists mostly of sand and gravel called outwash which is underlain by dolomite.

An aquatic biologist from MDNRE observed nuisance algae growth in an unnamed tributary to Poterfield Creek that runs north to south across the Berger Cattle Ranch. Because the aquatic biologist found that the tributary exceeded Michigan's qualitative goal for nuisance algae conditions, MDNRE added a 1.2-mile segment to the 2002 CWA section 303(d) list of impaired waters for excess algal growth and high phosphorus concentrations. MDNRE attributed the algal bloom to phosphorus in agricultural runoff from the cattle ranch.

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Project Highlights

In the early 1990s, cattle grazed in and around the Poterfied Creek tributary that runs through Berger's Cattle Ranch (Figure 2). The landowner of Berger's Cattle Ranch installed fencing to exclude the cattle from the stream (Figure 3). The Michigan Department of Agriculture provided technical assistance. The partners used CWA section 319 funds to monitor the tributary after the landowner installed the fencing.

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Recent monitoring by MDNRE's aquatic biologist observed an absence of nuisance algae growth and substantially lower total phosphorus concentrations downstream of the ranch, as compared to the upstream reference reach (Table 1).

As a result of the aquatic biologist's determination that algae no longer impaired the 1.2-mile segment of the unnamed tributary to Poterfield Creek, MDNRE has proposed to remove the waterbody from Michigan's 2010 CWA section 303(d) list of impaired waters.
Table 1. Phosphorus (P) concentrations in milligrams per liter (mg/L), before and after the landowner installed fencing along the Poterfield Creek tributary
Sample date Upstream
of project
(mg/L P)
of project
(mg/L P)
Pre-project (1992) Not sampled 1.1
Post-project (2008) 0.052 0.047

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Partners and Funding

The landowner funded the fencing project. The Michigan Department of Agriculture provided technical assistance. Approximately $3,000 in CWA section 319 funding supported post-project water quality monitoring.

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