Improving Muskegon Lake Water Quality Through Proper Land Use in the Ryerson Creek Watershed
Muskegon Conservation District
Basin Program Funds:
Ryerson Creek, in the Muskegon Lake watershed, is rapidly urbanizing. The associated
increase in impervious surface within the watershed has contributed to increased
flows during storm events and led to streambank erosion problems along the creek.
The Ryerson Creek watershed lacks a stormwater management plan and the appropriate
government action, in the form of ordinances, zoning and best management practice
(BMP) implementation to effectively manage sedimentation from streambank erosion
and improve water quality in Muskegon Lake.
The 1,993 acre Ryerson Creek watershed is representative of rapidly developing
urban growth around Muskegon Lake. Ryerson Creek has a moderate amount of streambank
channel erosion occurring estimated to yield approximately 200 tons per year
in sediment load to Muskegon Lake. High stormwater flow from increased impervious
surfaces is evidenced by litter trapped in brush 3-4 feet above the normal stream
channel flows. Streambank erosion was not a problem in this watershed ten years
ago today, however, it has six erosion sites due to stormwater flows.
The Muskegon Lake Public Advisory Council and the Michigan Department of Environmental
Quality (MDEQ) have identified urban development, such as that occurring along
Ryerson Creek, as a significant contributor to the sediment load of Muskegon
Lake, an identified Area of Concern (AOC). In addition, Phase II Stormwater
Regulations under the Clean Water Act require a comprehensive approach to stormwater
management by smaller communities, such as Muskegon. Therefore, developing a
stormwater management plan for Ryerson Creek addressed several unmet needs in
regional environmental management.
The Muskegon Conservation District worked with a coalition of federal, state
and local governments, agencies and public advisory groups in order to develop
a stormwater plan for the Ryerson Creek watershed. As a first step, the District
formed the Ryerson Creek Technical Team to provide input into the stormwater
plan. Team members included representatives from the District, the U.S. Department
of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), elected officials
and staff from Muskegon and Egelston Townships, the City of Muskegon and the
Muskegon County Drain Commissioner. MDEQ's Surface Water Quality and Land and
Water Management Divisions as well as Westshore Consultants provided additional
technical support and advice.
Working with the Technical Team, Westshore Consultants and Grand Valley State
University developed a stormwater management plan that addressed both water
quantity and water quality concerns. They used a geographic information system
(GIS) that combined watershed boundaries, land use, soil types and percentage
of impervious surface to give an accurate picture of historic, current and possible
future watershed development. In addition, MDEQ provided hydrologic analysis
of runoff volumes and peaks for the watershed using a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers'
hydrologic modeling system.
NRCS staff designed bio-engineering techniques to be used on three erosion
sites along Ryerson Creek. Project personnel provided information about the
project to five teachers and their students and worked with the teachers and
students to install the erosion control practices. The Muskegon High School
biology classes have adopted a portion the creek because of this project, they
are interested in involving students in the effort to get Muskegon to designate
a portion of the creek corridor as a charter park.
The resulting Stormwater Management Plan for the Ryerson Creek Watershed, Muskegon
County, Michigan is comprehensive in scope. It provides an overview of the watershed
that examines the impact of land use and urbanization, and outlines local governance
arrangements. The plan reviews the hydrologic analysis and identifies nine critical
areas that must be addressed through an integrated approach to achieve effective
The project has had several immediate applications as well as promising significant
future benefits. During the project period, the Technical Team developed and
delivered a public workshop on riparian landscaping and water quality monitoring
techniques for the benefit of wildlife and water quality. In conjunction with
the project manager, the Technical Team also gave presentations at six meetings
with the public and local officials to support the development of ordinances
to implement the stormwater management plan. An additional three forums, developed
for local units of government in Muskegon County, resulted in the creation of
a Muskegon County Stormwater Committee that is investigating MDEQ's voluntary
The project team also developed fact sheets and articles on the stormwater
project that were distributed to interested local groups and printed in two
local newsletters with a combined distribution of 20,000 in Muskegon County.
In addition, the project team demonstrated bioengineering techniques for restoring
eroding sites along the creek. To date they have restored three sites, of approximately
two acres, and will use similar techniques to restore a third. The project manager
estimates 141 tons of soil will be saved over the life of the project.
The Muskegon County Stormwater Committee has moved beyond investigation and
is working with a private consultant to put together an application for the
voluntary stormwater permit. This project helped to build and strengthen local
partnerships that will be valuable in other Muskegon County stormwater management
and local AOC watershed efforts. It resulted in the Muskegon County Stormwater
Committee's formation and development of an illicit connection, detection and
correction program in the city of Muskegon. The project also raised educational
awareness about stormwater impacts on water quality and quantity issues. The
information gathered through the planning process will be used to provide support
for the selection of the Ryerson Creek Corridor as a charter park to protect
water quality and to increase the public's enjoyment of the creek's natural
Contact: Kathy Evans, (231) 773-0008