Water Management Practices

Protecting and preserving the Great Lakes State’s precious water resources is truly a team effort. On the regulatory side, state agencies such as the Department of Environmental Quality, the Department of Natural Resources, and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development take the lead. Private sportsmen and conservation groups – including but certainly not limited to Michigan United Conservation Clubs, Trout Unlimited, Michigan Steelheaders and Ducks Unlimited – are also important partners in helping keep our waters healthy for recreational use.

Water management and conservation practices include:

Michiganders are rightfully proud and protective of our water resources. Each year, thousands of volunteers demonstrate their devotion to Michigan’s outdoor heritage by participating in cleanups of rivers and streams. These events, which are often organized by groups such as Michigan United Conservation Clubs, Trout Unlimited chapters, Michigan Steelheaders and watershed groups, improve both the appearance and health of waterways. Volunteers haul away unsightly trash, such as old tires and paint cans, that can harm wildlife and degrade fisheries. They also remove harmful vegetation that can choke streams or affect water flow. In addition, cleanup events help connect people to our beautiful resources and allow them to serve as citizen observers who can report wildlife sightings and other information that helps fisheries, wildlife and forestry managers do their job.
Prevention and monitoring are the first lines of defense against invasive species from entering Michigan waters. For example, the DNR encourages fishing enthusiasts to clean, drain and dry boats, tackle and other gear after use to prevent invasives from hitching a ride to a new body of water. Fishermen also play an important role in early detection of nonnative species in Michigan waters, as do university researchers and power plant operators. Water resource managers rely on those and other third parties to report the presence of invasive plants and animals. Testing water for the presence of nonnative species through environmental DNA is another tool for early detection.

Once the presence of foreign invaders is confirmed, response plans are implemented. Resource managers might try netting to remove invasive species from a confined body of water, or they could use chemical treatment when populations are more widespread. For example, some Michigan rivers are regularly treated with a lampricide that kills the larvae of the invasive sea lamprey – a parasite that sucks bodily fluids from native fish such as salmon and lake trout. Treatments are conducted without significantly harming other animals or plants.

To create and enhance fishing opportunities and to help restore diminished populations, the DNR regularly stocks a variety of fish – including salmon, trout, walleye and musky – in the Great Lakes and inland bodies of water. Stocking decisions are based on science, social and economic considerations, and designed to meet ecological needs and the wants of fishing enthusiasts. Input comes from a variety of sources, including conservation and sportsmen groups, and charter boat operators.

The 1966 introduction of Pacific salmon into the Great Lakes is a shining example of how fish stocking enhanced our waters and boosted recreation opportunities. Ecologically, the salmon returned balance to the lakes by introducing a predator to control the growth of invasive alewife populations. At the same time, salmon stocking created what has become a world-class fishery with immense economic importance. Another common fish-stocking example: In many inland lakes, the growth of bluegills is stunted due to a lack of food and habitat degradation. To restore balance (and, ultimately, create bigger, healthier bluegill) the state has planted predators such as walleye into lakes to thin bluegill populations and lessen competition.

Spearheading Michigan’s fish production efforts are six DNR-operated hatcheries, three permanent egg-take stations and numerous rearing ponds, many of which are operated in partnership with sportsmen’s groups.

Few people are as closely connected to the land as Michigan’s farmers, giving them incentive to manage resources wisely. Typically, Mother Nature supplies the water that crops require to thrive in the form of rainfall. But in times of drought, farmers turn to irrigation, using real-time weather data to minimize water use and maximize its benefit. Irrigation ponds offer the added benefit of providing habitat for wildlife, including migratory waterfowl.

In addition, farmers increasingly are using only the most productive land, letting acreage such as wetlands and riparian buffer strips return to their natural state. Wetlands are important to the environment. For instance, they provide a home for many wildlife species, serve as natural filters for sediment and toxins, and hasten groundwater recharge (the replenishment of underground aquifers that supply water for drinking and irrigating). Riparian buffer strips help to retain rainwater and intercept nutrients and soil before they reach our streams and lakes, causing sedimentation and eutrophication (excessive richness of nutrients in a body of water).

Managing aquatic species requires monitoring the environment they live in. Agencies at various levels of government track water levels and the presence of nutrients and chemicals in the Great Lakes, inland lakes and rivers and streams. The information helps ensure swimming safety and healthy aquatic environments. For example, high nutrient levels are bad for fish because they reduce oxygen in water. Identifying the source of the extra nutrients – such as leaky septic tanks or agricultural runoff – leads to action plans that encourage best environmental practices. Such plans might call for encouraging a farm to install a strip of vegetation to prevent fertilizer or livestock waste from entering an adjoining stream.
Periodic dredging of built-up sedimentation from Great Lakes marinas and harbors and large river bodies is necessary to ensure safe navigation for recreational boaters and commercial freighters operating on the Great Lakes. The DNR works with local partners to ensure that dredging has minimal impact on aquatic species, such as by timing projects so they don’t interfere with spawning fish.
On rivers all across Michigan dams were built as Depression-era public works projects. Some were constructed to produce hydroelectric power, while others were intended to create lakes and reservoirs for recreational use. Regardless of their original purpose, many dams are at or near their structural life expectancy and need to be relicensed and/or evaluated.

Dams can congregate migratory fish, creating popular fishing spots. Dams can also serve as barriers to the spread of invasive species, such as lamprey eels. But generally speaking, dam removal is beneficial to a river’s health. Dam removal reconnects a river system to its main stream and tributaries, provides fish passage and wildlife access to new habitat, increasing opportunity for natural reproduction, and allows sediment load to move more efficiently through a free-flowing river system. In addition, removal means recreationalists, such as canoeists and kayakers, no longer have to portage around dams. Because of these and more benefits, the general trend toward removing dams is a national movement.