2006-04-13 / Front Page

Plans Would Improve Water Quality at Les Cheneaux; Funding Sought

By Amy Polk

Researchers sample water in the Les Cheneaux Watershed to assess the quality of water in bays that may be impacted by human activity. Activity like construction or boating in those areas could contribute to degrading water quality, which may impact fish, birds, and plants that live in those waters. More than $1 million in funding may help protect and improve water quality in the Les Cheneaux Watershed. Researchers sample water in the Les Cheneaux Watershed to assess the quality of water in bays that may be impacted by human activity. Activity like construction or boating in those areas could contribute to degrading water quality, which may impact fish, birds, and plants that live in those waters. More than $1 million in funding may help protect and improve water quality in the Les Cheneaux Watershed. The Chippewa/East Mackinac Conservation District has applied for $905,000 in state and federal grants to improve and preserve water quality in the Les Cheneaux Watershed. If the money is awarded, it would restore the community's watershed coordinator and pay for hazardous waste collection, water quality monitoring, and road improvements at stream crossings, among many other projects.

Pat Carr, Les Cheneaux Watershed Council member and Conservation District employee, applied for the grants in March and expects to hear whether they are awarded in the early summer. The grants would be awarded in the fall, with projects slated to begin in October. The projects and Les Cheneaux Watershed Coordinator position would be funded through 2009. Grants would also provide money for a summer intern.

"We (Watershed Council and Conservation District) have all agreed the most important thing here is that it will put a full-time person devoted to protecting the water quality in the Les Cheneaux Islands area," Mr. Carr said.

The community had a full-time watershed coordinator March 2001 through December 2004, and Mr. Carr served as the coordinator most of that time. He spent much of that time assembling the Les Cheneaux Watershed Management Plan, a prescription for maintaining and restoring the health of the area's many streams, bays, and lake shore on the mainland and around the region's islands. The watershed includes all of Clark, and portions of Marquette and Raber townships, as some of the streams in the watershed start north of Clark Township.

Money for the projects will come from the state's Clean Michigan Initiative fund and federal Section 319 Non-Point Source Pollution funds. Clean Michigan Initiative funding is used primarily for environmental information and education, while Section 319 money is awarded for structural improvements, Mr. Carr said. Approximately $322,000 in matching funds and in-kind service has been pledged by local organizations and agencies, including Mackinac County and Chippewa County road commissions, Lake Superior State University (LSSU), the Les Cheneaux Watershed Council, Islands Wildlife, Luce-Mackinac-AlgerSchoolcraft Health Department, Chippewa County Recycling, Upper Peninsula Resource Conservation and Development Council, and Clark Township Board. If the grants and pledges are secured, $1.2 million in funding will be applied to nine projects.

The biggest and most expensive task will be repairing and improving nine road and stream crossings to help eliminate erosion at points where streams cross under roads through culverts or pipes. Mackinac and Chippewa counties' road commissions will complete the work. In some of the places identified by the Les Cheneaux Watershed Council, the road is washed away by streams swollen with spring snowmelt. Some places have eroding stream banks along the road, while others are worn from use and time.

"What we plan on doing is restoring the hydrology, the natural flow of streams, and we want to eliminate road runoff into streams," Mr. Carr said.

Crossings slated for improvement or installation include one on Point Brulee Road in Hessel; the intersection of Pearson Creek and Meridian Road in Cedarville; a section on State Avenue where Pearson hits the road at a 90degree angle and often floods; combining two culverts into one on Flower Bay Road in Cedarville; improvements at the intersection of State Avenue and Blind Line Road in Cedarville; adding three larger culverts on Prentiss Bay Road in Cedarville, and installing erosion control measures on Nordquist Road in Cedarville.

The Watershed Council also plans to partner with the road commissions and Les Cheneaux Snowmobile Club to stabilize stream banks on McKay Creek near road and snowmobile trails that have suffered erosion. There are some places where so much woody debris has piled up, the creek has been diverted from its natural flow direction, accelerating erosion there.

The second largest task is working with Land Information Access Association and LSSU to develop a regional water quality database. The database will be a place where people can see all the water quality research reports, soils maps of the watershed, Geographic Information System software and maps, habitat maps, county and state maps, hydrological data, fishing creel surveys, fish population reports, and "any monitoring that's going on in our area," said Mr. Carr, who is enthusiastic about the prospects of such a system.

"It will be a tool for the average citizen to use to access water quality information from their living room," he added. "And the Watershed Council will be able to continuously enter the latest information into the database."

Grant money would also support a hazardous waste collection each summer, for the next five years. Residents would be able to bring batteries, cleaning solvent, and other hazardous materials, medical waste, and chemicals one does not want to put in the trash, or dump on the ground or in the woods.

Another component of the grant would be to assist Clark Township Planning Commission and Board with improving waterquality protection in its master plan and zoning ordinances. The money would be spent on hosting meetings, presentations, and information and education materials to increase awareness of local water quality issues and strategies for implementing zoning ordinances and other development guidelines to protect water quality. Water quality protection ordinances would be added to the township's zoning ordinance.

Money needed for information and education programs, newsletters, workshops about wetlands regulations, wastewater management, pollution prevention, invasive species management, and other water quality topics are included in the grant request. Information and education programs have the potential for making more people aware of the importance of protecting water quality for consumption, recreational use, and environmental health.

"I think this is a good opportunity to build the momentum for protecting the resource," Mr. Carr said of the grants' potential.

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