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Waterkeeper Groups Work to Preserve MI Fresh Waters

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According to the Yellow Dog Watershed, a 2013 EPA survey found 21% of U.S. river and stream lengths are in good biological condition, down from 27% in 2004. Hills Falls, on the Yellow Dog River, is among them. (Jeremiah Eagle Eye/Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve)
According to the Yellow Dog Watershed, a 2013 EPA survey found 21% of U.S. river and stream lengths are in good biological condition, down from 27% in 2004. Hills Falls, on the Yellow Dog River, is among them. (Jeremiah Eagle Eye/Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve)
 By Michayla Savitt - Producer, Contact
April 30, 2021

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - Water quality and conservation practices around Michigan reach both its Lower and Upper Peninsulas, and two local waterkeepers say vigilant monitoring of these watersheds is vital.

The rural Grand Traverse Bay, at the northern end of the Lower Peninsula, is a tourist and retirement hotspot. Heather Smith, Grand Traverse Baykeeper, said this has led to more development, which results in loss of wetlands, vegetation, and the natural shoreline tree canopy.

She said she works to stop those impacts.

"If we don't pay attention to wetland loss now, or if we don't think about preserving our tree canopy, it's going to be too late," said Smith. "And it's so hard to revert back. Preservation is so much more effective than restoration."

Smith said the watershed has been successful with coastal resilience efforts, getting state and federal funding, as well as aid through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

She noted the Watershed Baykeeper monitors for stormwater issues that can introduce toxins and bacteria, which are also attributed to development.

Further north on the Upper Peninsula, Yellow Dog Riverkeeper Chauncey Moran and his team are also closely monitoring the river's water quality. It's checked twice a year at 28 sites.

But Moran said one big problem affecting the river is an overall lack of public awareness.

"It's intended and unintended consequences that have ancillary effects that you're totally unaware of, that you can't do anything about it after the fact," said Moran. "Perfection comes from allowing nature to take its course, without interfering over a long period of time."

Threats include habitat fragmentation, mining, logging and vehicles driving through the river, he said.

Moran and other waterkeepers agreed that educating local residents and lawmakers about Michigan's waterways is important for the long-term protection of the watersheds.

"Sometimes the prevention part is to create an atmosphere of acknowledgement of education," said Moran. "Of what's the smallest thing that you can do, and the largest thing you can do, to aid and abet the best parts?"

He asserted that the best way to achieve watershed protections is to accept and follow them on a hyperlocal level.

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