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Marquette Monthly
June, 2006
 

Feature, by Carl Lindquist
Watershed organization changes name, expands services throughout U.P.
“Water is life and the quality of water determines the quality of life.”

More than 3,000 years ago, the Chinese recognized that “to protect your rivers, you must protect your land.”
Not much has changed since then. What we do on the land directly affects the water around us, whether it’s a little trout stream or a Great Lake. The first step in understanding that connection is understanding watersheds.
In the political world, the term “watershed” has come to mean “a turning point.” In the natural world, a watershed is the land that is drained by any given river or lake system. A watershed divide is the ridge of land that separates two drainage systems.
The Rocky Mountains are one example of a watershed divide. In the Upper Peninsula, a watershed divide works in exactly the same way as a mountain chain, but less dramatically.
For instance, a hypothetical drop of water falling on the north side of a U.P. watershed divide will find its way into a river and then into Lake Superior, while a drop of water falling on the south side of that same ridge eventually will end up in Lake Michigan. The eastern tip of the U.P. drains into Lake Huron; in the western U.P., there is about fifty square miles that is part of the Mississippi watershed and drains to the Gulf of Mexico.
No matter where we live, “we all live in a watershed.” Living on a peninsula only makes that fact more evident. We are surrounded by water.
Once people understand how watersheds work, a light goes off and they never look at the world in quite the same way. Suddenly, these winding, natural watershed boundaries make more sense and the straight, artificially-imposed political boundaries make less sense.
This is true especially when two or more political units, such as a city and a township, are located in one watershed, but operate as if all their concerns end at the arbitrary political boundary. Another watershed saying is “we all live downstream.” In other words, the decisions we make on the land directly affect other people, especially those downstream.
Nationally, there is a growing trend towards watershed management. These natural boundaries make sense for protecting water quality, planning future land use, encouraging sustainable development and prioritizing land for conservation, managing plant and animal species and so much more.
The Superior Watershed Partnership (SWP), formerly the Central Lake Superior Watershed Partnership, is a nonprofit organization serving the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, including the Watersheds of Lake Superior, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.
The strength of SWP lies in its many partners and the people who have adopted the watersheds where they live. Each year, the SWP assists in establishing new citizen watershed councils that help identify the issues and opportunities in the watersheds.
The SWP serves the entire Upper Peninsula of Michigan and currently, there are about a dozen citizen watershed councils that receive support from the SWP. The oldest established citizen advisory group is the Whetstone/Orianna Watershed Council in Marquette (formed more than a decade ago). The newest council is the Two-Hearted Watershed Council in Luce County.
Thanks to a program called Earth Keepers, the number of new citizen watershed councils is expected to double over the next few years. The idea is that the people who live, work and play in a watershed know and care about it the most.
These citizen volunteers come from different walks of life, different units of government, different careers and faiths, but they all share one common interest: what is best for the watershed they live in. The SWP then provides the technical, educational and financial assistance, when available, to address the issues that the citizen councils have identified.
The watershed approach is comprehensive: to protect or restore the environmental health of any watershed, urban or rural, requires a holistic approach. Perhaps the best way to illustrate the far-reaching impact of the Superior Watershed Partnership is to use one community as an example.
Although the SWP now serves the entire Upper Peninsula, the greater Marquette area is perhaps the best example of how watershed management benefits almost every facet of a community.
The City of Marquette is defined by Lake Superior and the four local watersheds that drain into it; the Dead River, the Carp River, Whetstone Brook and Orianna Creek. Recent examples of how the Superior Watershed Partnership provides environmental, economic and quality of life benefits to this community include the following:

Earth Keepers
This unique collaborative of nine major religions (Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal, Methodist, Jewish, Presbyterian, Buddhist, Unitarian and Baha’i) and the Cedar Tree Institute collected more than 300 tons of obsolete and potentially hazardous electronics (computers, televisions, cell phones, printers, etc.) throughout the Upper Peninsula. Marquette had five major collection sites open to the public and collected an estimated forty tons of e-waste from city residents.
This year’s e-waste collection was funded through a grant obtained by the SWP and saved the city approximately $20,000. In 2005, the SWP coordinated the Earth Keeper Household Hazardous Waste collection (pesticides, herbicides, oil based paint, mercury, etc.), which broke all known records collecting more than forty-six tons in one day. Both Earth Keeper projects had long-term environmental and economic benefits for the community.

Shore Viewer, Land-use Planning CD
The City of Marquette and Marquette County are the first in Michigan to have two cutting-edge, land-use planning tools provided by the SWP. These are the digital Lake Superior Shore Viewer (www.superiorwatersheds.org) and the digital Land Use Planning CD. The Shore Viewer gives viewers an oblique angle, birds-eye view of every inch of Lake Superior coastline in Marquette County—more than eighty miles.
The Lake Superior Shore Viewer was intended as a coastal protection and planning tool, but has been praised as a sustainable economic development tool to promote nature tourism; kayakers love it for planning trips. The Land Use Planning CD and booklet is the first of its kind to give local units of government, planning commissions and landowners all the critical land-use planning information they need in one place.
The user-friendly CD contains information on soils, slopes, threatened and endangered plants and animals, model ordinances, conservation recommendations and more. The SWP secured grants to develop both tools sparing local government the cost of roughly $60,000.

Restoration, removals and mitigation
Recently the SWP, the Whetstone/Orianna citizen council and City of Marquette staff were recognized for their role in the restoration of Whetstone Brook at Founders Landing. After a century of being buried in a culvert, this urban trout stream is flowing free.
Another recent river restoration project took place when the SWP secured a $150,000 grant to remove the abandoned Collinsville Dam on the Dead River. This 300-foot-long concrete dam now is gone and more than a half-mile of high quality trout stream has been restored within the city limits. Also, in 2004, the SWP was instrumental in securing $3.5 million in federal funding for local governments to use towards mitigating the impacts from the devastating Dead River flood of 2003.

Great Lakes protection and research
The Superior Watershed Partnership has been a leader in the protection of Lake Superior and has assisted in developing and implementing the Lake Superior Lakewide Management Plan (LaMPs) with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Canada. Recently, the SWP helped develop a Great Lakes Shoreline Protection Guide that was provided to every coastal county and township in the Upper Peninsula with the goal of protecting the rapidly developing shorelines of Lake Superior, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.
The SWP also shares a Great Lakes research vessel with Northern Michigan University and has partnered with the NMU Environmental Science Program on a number of Lake Superior monitoring initiatives in Marquette’s upper and lower harbors, including documenting invasive species, tracking fish populations and studying sediment deposition.

Watershed and land-use planning
The SWP continues to develop comprehensive watershed protection plans for the U.P. and has provided the City of Marquette with numerous watershed protection recommendations, addressing such issues as storm water management, protecting Lake Superior, land conservation, and incorporating low-cost water quality measures such as stream buffers.
The City of Marquette currently has a $55,000 state grant secured with the assistance of the SWP to educate the public about the benefits of protecting or restoring streamside vegetation buffers which filter pollutants, prevent erosion and provide habitat and numerous water-quality benefits. The SWP has drafted a model buffer ordinance for local units of government to consider adopting or adapting to fit their needs.
Currently, the SWP also is developing watershed protection plans for the Salmon- Trout River and the Two-Hearted River. These plans, model ordinances and technical manuals are available to local units of government and citizens at no cost. The SWP is a leader in stream monitoring and water-quality monitoring and hosts volunteer training for those interested in learning.

Education and landowner assistance
The Superior Watershed Partnership provides a variety of public information and environmental education opportunities for area residents including newsletters, public workshops, field trips and presentations.
Each year, students and residents from grade schools, high schools, Northern Michigan University and numerous community organizations (Boy Scouts, civic groups, churches, etc.) learn about the watersheds they live in and how they can help protect local rivers and the Great Lakes. The SWP also provides landowners with free technical assistance regarding issues such as water quality protection, habitat improvement and natural resource management.

Pollution prevention and toxic reduction
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently recognized the SWP and more than thirty dental offices in the Superior Dental Association (SDA) for their efforts in protecting Lake Superior.
Specifically, the EPA applauded the SWP for assisting the dental association which recently passed a resolution to voluntarily install mercury separators in every dental office in Marquette (some already have).
Nationally, many cities have had to resort to ordinances to impose mandatory mercury reductions on businesses which results in additional city expenses and taxes. The voluntary approach saves everyone money and protects water quality.
In the past, the effluent that enters Lake Superior from the Marquette Wastewater Treatment Plant (MWTP) has had some of the highest levels of mercury in the state of Michigan. The SWP and the MWTP are continuing to work to identify other local sources of mercury and reduce their impacts to Lake Superior.
These types of SWP pollution prevention initiatives support the goals of the Zero Discharge program which aims to virtually eliminate the worst toxic pollutants from the Lake Superior watershed.

Sustainable economic development
The Superior Watershed Partnership has worked with local businesses to reduce waste, prevent pollution and improve profits. Currently the SWP is working with Northern Initiatives in a five-county region to promote sustainable economic development based on nature tourism (www.greatwaters.net).
Because tourism is vital to the economy of the Upper Peninsula, it makes sense to protect our priceless rivers and lakes—especially our Great Lakes. The SWP also has worked to raise national awareness about non-sustainable economic and environmental activities such as sulfide-based mining.
The SWP wrote the nomination, provided the science-based data and worked closely with American Rivers in Washington D.C. to have the Salmon-Trout River prioritized as one of America’s most endangered rivers.

Intern and volunteer opportunities
Each year, the SWP works with local schools, community groups and Northern Michigan University providing youth with numerous opportunities to learn about local watershed issues.
This coming summer, the SWP is partnering with Michigan Works to offer a Youth Conservation Corps, which will implement conservation and public recreation projects for cooperating units of government, community groups and prioritized landowners.
In addition, the SWP offers volunteer service projects for those interested in helping with conservation work, trail work, storm drain stenciling, improving public access sites or re-introducing wild rice with the Cedar Tree Institute and the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. Lastly, the SWP offers NMU students a variety of hands-on learning internships and continues to hire some of NMU’s best and brightest graduates.

Field projects
The SWP has completed hundreds of field projects, ranging from small erosion control projects to large river restoration projects.
Field projects include removing culverts and installing clear-span bridges, cooperative dune restoration and public access projects along Lake Superior, native plant re-introduction and exotic species eradication, storm water management and water quality protection projects, aquatic habitat restoration, fish passage improvement, dam removals and more.
For instance, the SWP has been working to protect the Salmon-Trout Watershed and its native population of Coaster Brook Trout long before there was the threat of sulfide mining (projects include stream-crossing improvements, habitat protection, erosion control, monitoring and more).
This year, look for phase one of an innovative riparian buffer restoration project using native plant species on a large section of degraded stream bank on the Dead River within the city limits of Marquette. SWP field projects are grant-funded and require critical local matching funds in order to secure project funding.

Conservation and habitat protection
Proactive watershed management involves preserving high priority lands that protect water quality, provide important habitat and enhance local quality of life. The SWP provides interested landowners with a variety of options to preserve land, technical assistance on how to protect and restore important aquatic and terrestrial habitat on their lands.

The Superior Watershed Partnership is not a local unit of government, nor is it affiliated with any state or federal agency. It is a conservation organization that works solely in the Upper Peninsula, and is supported by a dedicated cadre of board members, who guide the growth and direction. It is not a national or international conservation organization with a large budget.
The SWP depends on volunteers, donations, membership dues and grants to complete the work it does each year. If the it did not exist, this important work would not get done. Support is crucial, now more than ever. Contributions count as local matching funds and help the Superior Watershed Partnership secure many of the grants that get the real work done.
If you are interested in becoming an SWP member, making a tax-deductible donation, volunteering on a service project, forming a new watershed council or joining an existing council call 228-6095 or visit www.superiorwatersheds.org
Donors can also support the watershed partnership by making a tax-deductible contribution to the Marquette Community Foundation.
MM

 


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