June 2019

Coping with record-breaking high water levels

orange and black sandbagsBreak out the sandbags — last month, water levels in Lake Erie, Lake Superior, and Lake St. Clair reached the highest level ever recorded for the month of May. The Army Corps of Engineers now predicts that all of the Great Lakes will meet or set new record highs this summer.

Today’s flooding and erosion make it hard to believe that just a few years ago, Great Lakes communities were experiencing fallout from extremely low water levels. These fluctuations are an expected but often damaging occurrence along the Great Lakes. This uncertainty can put a strain on coastal homeowners, businesses, and communities.

So what’s in store for this summer and fall? Join Michigan Sea Grant’s Mark Breederland and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a lake levels presentation in Ludington on June 19, or watch the video from a similar presentation in Traverse City on our YouTube channel:

Visit our website for a variety of resources about lake levels, flooding, and how to plan for and respond to weather-related hazards:

Grant will support trail connections in Downriver communities

Biking or hiking around southeast Michigan is about to get a little easier. On May 14, a crowd gathered at sunny John D. Dingell Park in Ecorse to celebrate a $1.9 million grant that will foster new non-motorized trail connections in the Detroit area.

The funding is linked to the Iron Belle Trail that connects the Keweenaw Peninsula in the western U.P. with Belle Isle in the Detroit River. When completed, the Iron Belle Trail will span 48 counties and cover 2,000 miles of the state. Michigan’s Downriver communities, clustered along the western bank of the Detroit River in Wayne County, are home to 25 miles of the Iron Belle Trail. A portion of the $1.9 million grant will help close 3.5 miles of gaps in the trail where it passes through the Downriver area.

The funds will also increase bicycle access to parks and make it safer for cyclists to cross roads when following area trails. “What we’re lacking is the connectivity for non-motorized recreation,” said Wayne County Executive Warren Evans at the May grant celebration. “We need to connect our parks.”

The money comes from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, named for the late owner of the Buffalo Bills football team and a native Detroiter. The foundation generously supports investments in southeast Michigan, including a separate $100 million grant awarded to Detroit in 2018 to support development of trails and a riverfront park.

This new grant award represents a strong partnership spearheaded by the Friends of the Detroit River (FDR), the grant fiduciary. FDR’s primary partners are Downriver Linked Greenways, Wayne County, MotorCities National Heritage Area, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Group photo of project partners involved in the Iron Belle trail grant

The funding is driving important partnerships among organizations involved in the Downriver area.

Michigan Sea Grant Extension Educator Mary Bohling was instrumental in helping propel the partnership and successful grant proposal. “Our trail projects depend on so many different levels,” she told the gathering. “We need not only the local buy-in, but the private support, the federal support, the state support.”

The emotional significance of holding the event at Dingell Park was not lost on the morning’s crowd. The riverfront park is named for John Dingell, Jr., who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1955 through 2015. His career was marked by a strong commitment to environmental restoration and recreation, and he helped launch the Downriver Linked Greenways in 1999 to create new outdoor recreation opportunities for southeast Michigan communities.

The retired congressman passed away in February 2019, and his wife and successor, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, kept his memory alive at the May 14 event, saying that “[John] wanted to preserve these beautiful natural resources that we have.”

The trail enhancements will do more than connect people to trails and parks. “This effort will surely enhance recreational opportunities for people in this community by bringing people to the river via a fully connected trail system,” said David Howell, chairman of the Friends of the Detroit River. Congresswoman Dingell also emphasized the benefits of bringing funds to riverfront communities: “The river is what connects us. The river is what founded this area. We need to restore the riverfront.”

News from our fellows

Women who fish have stories to tell; giving them a platform is Graduate Research Fellow Erin Burkett’s mission. Erin’s photovoice project gets groups of women anglers to share their experiences through the lens of a camera. Learn more about her research and hear from some lady anglers in the Keweenaw Peninsula.

The government shutdown may have ended a few months ago, but the memory is still fresh for Knauss Fellow Jillian Mayer. Her Knauss experience has been marked by the 35-day shutdown — in some surprisingly pleasant ways.

MISG website gets a makeover

We’re pleased to roll out the brand-new Michigan Sea Grant website! Launched in early April, the new site sports an updated look, adapts for viewing on phones and tablets, and is more accessible to screen readers and other assistive technologies. The website’s structure has also changed, so take a few minutes to look for your favorite pages and resources.

Please note that our website address has changed to www.michiganseagrant.org. Many old links will redirect to the appropriate location on the new website, but you may encounter a broken link or two.

If something is broken or missing on the new website, please let us know. Rolling out a new site always brings its fair share of bugs, and we appreciate feedback if you see room for improvement. Happy browsing!

Green infrastructure stars in Ann Arbor Water School tour

Michigan’s soggy spring and soaring Great Lakes water levels bring the importance of green infrastructure into stark relief. Green infrastructure installations — which use natural processes and plants to slow, capture, and filter stormwater runoff — are vital tools for communities looking to become more resilient in the face of extreme weather and climate instability.

This was one of the lessons imparted during the Ann Arbor session of the Michigan Water School, a two-day workshop designed to teach local elected and appointed officials and their staff about issues related to water resources, policy, and management. The May workshop was capped off with an afternoon tour of sites in Ann Arbor and nearby Dexter that showcase water management strategies.

618 South Main Apartments (Ann Arbor)

green roof at ann arbor apartment

This six-story apartment complex in downtown Ann Arbor is flanked by rain gardens in several large stormwater retention basins. The gardens are designed to capture and soak up all the rain that falls on the site during a 100-year rain event (a statistical term indicating a 1-in-100 chance of a severe weather event happening in a given year). Instead of constructing right up to the sidewalk, the developers got a zoning variance from the city to add a story, shrink the building’s footprint, and install the rain garden basins as a public benefit. Other highlights:

  • Bicycle parking and wash station
  • Green roofs on lower wings of the building

Mill Creek Park (Dexter)

mill creek park dexter

This 56-acre park runs through downtown Dexter in an area once dominated by industrial buildings and a dammed creek. Conceived in 2000, construction on the park began in 2010 with the renovation of a major bridge and removal of the dam. Today, the park is a community asset with connections to the Huron River and a regional network of biking and walking trails. Native plants stabilize the streambank, filter runoff, and boost stormwater retention. Other highlights:

  • Prescribed burns to managed invasive species
  • Canoe/kayak landings and whitewater run
  • Fully accessible for folks with disabilities
  • Event spaces for formal and informal activities
  • Michigan Department of Natural Resources brown trout stocking site
  • Wader wash stations to reduce spread of invasive species

North Peak Brewing Company (Dexter)

wastewater treatment at Jolly Pumpkin

A 2013 transplant from Traverse City, the brewery houses the North Peak and Jolly Pumpkin brewing labels. When their first major brewing event overwhelmed the Dexter wastewater treatment plant, the brewery was driven to find creative solutions for handling wastewater in-house. Now, an ever-improving network of pipes and filters removes as much biological material from the water as possible, and staff continually look for ways to use water and cleaning supplies more judiciously. Other highlights:

  • On-site wastewater treatment system
  • Spent grains reclaimed as livestock feed
  • Minimal water used for washing brewing tanks
  • Partnership between brewery and Dexter municipal officials

Weighing in on the Grand River Waterway project

When the Grand River Waterway project proposed dredging a 22.5-mile channel in the river west of Grand Rapids, local officials and resource managers looked to Michigan Sea Grant for advice.

The proposed channel would allow larger powerboats to travel from Grand Rapids to Grand Haven and would remove 50 acres of shallow-water fish habitat. In a field where most conversations focus on restoring river habitat, the project raised a few eyebrows.

Michigan Sea Grant Extension Educator Dr. Dan O’Keefe, based in the Grand Haven area, published a white paper with MSU Extension about the potential physical and biological impacts of the proposed project. The science-based, policy-neutral paper has informed important conversations and decisions among local municipal and citizen groups, many of whom have ultimately stood in opposition to the project.

Learn more about the Grand River Waterway project and Dan’s white paper in his recent article:

On July 17, Dan will also give a public presentation about the biological and physical impacts of channelizing the Grand River. The event will be free and open to all, and sunset paddling and fishing on the Grand River will be available after the program. As space is limited, registration is required and will be open soon.

Site review event celebrates partnerships and collaboration

Michigan Sea Grant would like to thank everyone who helped make our 2019 federal site review a success. The four-year site review process is an important way for Sea Grant programs to keep the National Sea Grant Office up-to-date about our projects and partnerships. The review team — which typically includes NOAA staff, Sea Grant directors, and other federal agency representatives — also assesses our budget and strategic plan, sharing any tips and successes from other programs in the national Sea Grant network.

Michigan Sea Grant’s site review was held on the University of Michigan North Campus in early April. Over the course of three days, our staff and a host of stakeholders and partners presented about the projects and successes we’ve accomplished together in 2014-17.

Partners came from as near as the University of Michigan’s Central Campus and as far as Wisconsin to share their experience with Michigan Sea Grant during the review period. We even had a fourth grade class from Alpena Public Schools join via video call to showcase the tools and strategies they use to gather real-life data about Great Lakes water quality and ecosystems through our place-based education efforts.

Many thanks to our wonderful staff and partners who spoke at the site review. We also thank the federal site review team, which included Chelsea Berg (NOAA National Sea Grant), Kathy Bunting-Howard (New York Sea Grant), Heather Stirratt (NOAA Office for Coastal Management), Jeff Reutter (Ohio Sea Grant), and Earl Greene (USGS). Here’s to another four years of effective Great Lakes research, outreach, and education!

Don’t miss the boat!

Summer Discovery Cruises offer a fun, family-friendly way to explore the waters of Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair! Themed cruises are jam-packed with chances to learn about lighthouses, shipwrecks, bootleggers, ecology, birds, and more. Pick up your tickets today!


On the calendar

The Michigan Sea Grant website has a brand-new calendar page: www.michiganseagrant.org/events

Visit the calendar to find more details about upcoming events, including:

  • Check out four Life of the Straits events happening in Cheboygan, Sault Ste. Marie, Presque Isle, and Mackinac Island in June-September. From glass bottom boat tours to fun with pollinators, the Life of the Straits is free to all current 4-H members and is perfect for children age 8-13: event details
  • Catch a talk about the proposed Grand River Waterway dredging project in Grand Haven on July 17: event details
  • Find a MI Paddle Stewards volunteer training workshop near you! The first workshop is happening in Menominee on July 19, with 11 additional workshops coming to communities around the state: event details
  • Teach your child the joy of fishing at Saginaw Bay 4-H Fish Camp on July 22-25: event details

Extension round-up

New videos highlight presentations on the state of Lake Michigan fisheries

By Dan O’Keefe
Videos from the 2019 South Haven workshop address Lake Michigan fisheries management, prey fish, and mass marking.

The GLANSIS Map Explorer: Tracking Great Lakes invaders

By Rochelle Sturtevant and El Lower
This user-friendly portal documents the spread of non-native species in the Great Lakes basin.

How do Great Lakes invaders influence fish diets?

By Dan O’Keefe
A crowd-funded study is analyzing trout, salmon, and walleye diets in Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.