St. Joseph River Soil Erosion and Sediment Control
Berrien County, MI

Grantee: St. Joseph River Soil and Water Conservation District
Basin Program Funds: $9,997
Non-federal Funds: $7,630
Project Duration: 09/1994 - 08/1995
Status: complete

Problem Statement
The National Resource Inventory in 1982 estimated average annual erosion (wind, sheet and gully erosion) on 1.5 million acres of cropland in the St. Joseph River watershed to be 5.9 tons per acre per year. An estimated 853,000 acres of this cropland (nearly two thirds) needs erosion control practices. Sedimentation is impacting the water quality in the lower portion of the St. Joseph River. Investigations indicate high phosphorous levels and total dissolved solids. The St. Joseph Harbor must be continually dredged due to significant sediment load from the St. Joseph River.

The goal of the St. Joseph River Soil Erosion and Sediment Control Demonstration Project is to demonstrate an innovative, cost-effective method of controlling severe gully erosion. The St. Joseph River watershed covers about 2,742,400 acres in southwestern Michigan. The St. Joseph River flows into Lake Michigan at Benton Harbor-St. Joseph and is listed by the National Park Service as a significant free-flowing stream (river). In Berrien County, the river is deeply entrenched, having a high riverbank (escarpment) on one or both sides of the river. The escarpment reaches nearly 140 feet in height at Berrien Springs. River bank erosion and adjacent gully erosion is contributing a large portion of sediment to the river.

The Great Lakes Basin program provided $9,997 over a one-year period to support the demonstration of an innovative cost-effective method of controlling sever gully erosion on a typical farm, adjacent to the St. Joseph River, in Berrien County. The project developed alternative Best Management Practices (BMPs) for the site, then selected and implemented a preferred option. The planning and construction sequence were documented to enable widespread duplication of the process at other locations and an intensive information education project will teach landowners how to implement soil erosion and sediment control practices.

The Disterheft family farm was chosen for the demonstration site. The Family has farmed the crop fields in the area for nearly 100 years; the soils are sandy-textured and highly erodible. Problem sites were identified with landowner concurrence and construction plans developed. 20 acres underwent erosion control practices saving 300 tons of soil per year from entering the St. Joseph River. Erosion control practices implemented include:

  • 1,500 feet subsurface outlet

  • 1,300 feet diversion channel

  • two sediment and water control basins

  • one acre of critical-area seeding

The Disterheft site was also chosen for its excellent education and demonstration opportunities. A demonstration tour was held on June 3, 1995 to show landowners methods of controlling severe gully erosion.


Great Lakes Commission des Grands Lacs.  2805 S. Industrial Highway, Suite 100.  Ann Arbor, MI  48104-6791.  phone: 734/971.9135.  fax: 734/971-9150. Join the Friends of the Great Lakes GLIN Partner