Chocolay River Restoration (Thalwegzation) Demonstration Project
Marquette County, MI

Grantee: Marquette County Soil and Water Conservation District
Basin Program Funds: $9,280
Non-federal Funds: $17,000
Project Duration: 09/1994 - 08/1995
Status: complete

Problem Statement
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources estimates that an excess of 80% of the streams in the Chocolay River watershed are severely impacted due to erosion and sedimentation. Erosion and sedimentation have had two major impacts on the Chocolay River watershed. First, they have choked some sections of the river until what was once a narrow, fast-flowing and relatively deep channel (thalweg) has become silted in. Second, this excessive bedload limits the ability of invertebrates and fish to reproduce in the river. Beneficial aquatic vegetation is also severely impacted by sediment deposition The ecological degradation in turn results in economic impacts such as reduced sport fishing revenue and, due to the loss of navigable stream channel, fewer recreational activities.

The Chocolay River Restoration (Thalwegzation) Demonstration Project is an innovative two-phase stream restoration and stabilization project. The first phase of the project, involving numerous cooperating agencies and participation by local civic organizations, youth groups, and the general public, will undertake ten hands-on stream restoration and stabilization projects covering over 2,500 feet. Phase two will be an intensive information and education component targeting local landowners, businesses and public agencies.

The Chocolay River is a tributary to Lake Superior and drains a very diverse 147 square-mile watershed adjacent to the city of Marquette (pop. 21,977). The Chocolay River watershed is experiencing excessive erosion, sedimentation, and nonpoint source pollution due to increased residential, recreational, and business development, as well as significant erosion impacts from logging, large-scale road construction projects, and highway maintenance practices. Big Creek, a tributary to the Chocolay River, has been selected for the demonstration project because of its manageable size and because its problem sites, though limited in number, are significant. The proposed stream restoration work will enable the creek to flush out accumulated sand and sediment at the same time a natural stream channel (or thalweg) is restored.

Prior to beginning the demonstration project on Big Creek, the Chocolay River Project remediated a number of severe erosion sites upstream. Project team members stabilized critical areas and replaced a substandard stream crossing and culvert These efforts resulted in savings of 15-25 tons of soil annually.

The field work on the Big Creek demonstration project began in April, 1955 and was scheduled to be completed in September 1995. Articles in the local newspaper (30,000 circulation) and the project newsletter (2,000 circulation) have informed the general public and all riparian landowners of the project. Volunteer interest in the project has been high. College students (10 individuals), youth groups (8 individuals) and other local citizens (5) make up the core group of volunteers. As of mid-August, over 5,000 linear feet of stream habitat had been restored, well in excess of the originally proposed 2,500 feet.

Prior to this project, the MDNR documented that Big Creek's stream substrate was 100% embedded by buried sediment. Since the project began, monitoring shows that treated areas are showing 30-50% exposure to the original gravel stream bed and spawning areas. In other words, 30-50% of the sediment load has been scoured out and flushed downstream due to the implemented restoration practices. Stream habitat conditions have improved dramatically.

The project has leveraged approximately $17,000, including: approximately :$12,000 in equivalent volunteer hours (based on $10/hour); $1,000 provided by the Marquette Conservation District for materials and supplies; and a $4,000 MDNR fisheries grant, based on the project's success, to continue the project after the Big Creek phase.

As a result of its success, this project has been receiving both national and international attention. The Natural Resources Conservation Service used the Big Creek demonstration project in a video and in a stream restoration training manual scheduled for national distribution. Also, the International Joint Commission has included a write up on the project in its newsletter and on its Internet site.


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