Use of the WWW for Watershed Management
Houghton County, MI

Grantee: Michigan Technological University
Basin Program Funds: $9,080
Non-federal Funds: $5,198
Project Duration: 06/1998 - 06/1999
Status: complete

Problem Statement
It is anticipated that the Otter River watershed located in Houghton County in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, will experience increased development for recreational use in the near future, including boating, skiing, hiking, snowmobiling, off-road vehicles and a considerable sport fishery. The fishery has declined recently due, in part, to degraded habitat from excessive sedimentation. The watershed is 89% forested and road crossings are a major contributor of the sediment degrading water quality. Michigan Technological University proposed the development of an Internet education tool to familiarize Otter River watershed users with land-use impacts in their watershed.

The watershed has a complex drainage pattern with a number of small streams that are both perennial and intermittent with varying slopes and geomorphic characteristics. There are 18 lakes in the watershed ranging from 6.3 to 933 acres in size. Only 2, Otter and Sand lakes, have significant residential development, while the remainder have little or none. This lack of residential development makes these other areas of the watershed excellent recreation space.

A 1993 Michigan Department of Environmental Quality study identified poor conditions at road crossings in the Otter River watershed as a major contributor to erosion and sedimentation problems in the basin. A Michigan Department of Natural Resources study, based on a survey of 60 miles of watershed, found many severe "trouble" spots. For instance, at one location almost 14,000 cubic feet of sand had been deposited over 15,000 linear feet of stream. There is a layer of sand up to 10 feet deep in the final 7-8 miles of the Otter River above Otter Lake. In the lake itself, a large delta stretches more than half way across the lake bottom estimated at more than 54,000 10-yard dump truck loads of sand!

Michigan Technological University proposed developing an interactive web site to educate school children and members of the general public about the processes and effects of erosion and sedimentation in a watershed. The site is intended to raise awareness about these issues and identify ways people can address and control sedimentation.

Michigan Technological University personnel developed an Internet site framework for Michigan Technological University's Water Web ( The theme of this site is watershed management. Water Web information is organized to appeal to a range of ages and backgrounds. For instance, information for children in kindergarten through sixth grade is presented primarily in images, while that aimed at middle school and high school students builds conceptually and is more detailed depending upon the level. Information presented at the college and professional levels is based upon professional papers, books and academic theses. The site also has information on meteorology, with a section on remote sensing and monitoring expected to be added soon.

The underlying purpose of the web site is education, nevertheless it has also been used to aid in stream rehabilitation through the Otter River Improvement Project. This “real-time” project involves several agencies and groups and illustrates a cooperative effort of watershed rehabilitation to reduce sediment and erosion. The site allows a virtual tour of the Otter River and can be seen at

The project managers have found it a challenge to find personnel with the requisite expertise in both web page design and natural systems. There are also difficulties associated with communication between programmers and those working in the field.

The project team developed a range of educational modules on watershed management directed at all age groups, Kindergarten through college levels. The project team has coordinated their work with a number of schools and modules from the site will be used in conjunction with local "Adopt-a-Stream" programs as part of Michigan Technological University's outreach programs. In a addition, a graduate hydrology class has agreed to provide hydrologic analyses for several basins located throughout the western Upper Peninsula. Involved faculty and staff intend to keep developing the site, including modules on water quality, remote sensing, airshed management and pollution.

Contact: Dennis Johnson, (906) 487-3613


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