Improving Muskegon Lake Water Quality Through Proper Land Use in the Ryerson Creek Watershed
Muskegon County, MI

Grantee: Muskegon Conservation District
Basin Program Funds: $24,642
Non-federal Funds: $20,343
Project Duration: 04/1999 - 03/2001
Status: complete

Problem Statement
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 stormwater planning.

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 stormwater permit.

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 habitats.

Contact: Kathy Evans, (231) 773-0008


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