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About the CLWA


Swimmer's Itch Data from Congregational Assembly Beach 2019

The Congregational Summer Assembly beach, on the southwest corner of Crystal Lake, has been producing the most complete and accurate data on the occurrence of swimmer's itch since 2013. The latest statistics, from the 2019 season, have now been analyzed and summarized by Al Flory of the CLWA Swimmer's Itch Partnership. Flory's report emphasizes two important conclusions: incidence of swimmer's itch is higher when there are onshore winds and during the morning hours. There is also evidence that swimmer's itch on Crystal Lake may be stabilizing or decreasing.

Read the full report here.



Aerial shoreline survey completed

Zero Gravity Aerial of Traverse City completed a total shoreline survey of Crystal Lake during the summer of 2019. An initial high flyover looked at shoals to identify obvious changes like aquatic plant beds or human disturbance. Then the drone took detailed videos of each riparian shoreline from an altitude of about 30 feet. This survey will develop a visual benchmark for future comparison, and identify lakeshore areas of concern. Suggestions for improvement can be discussed collaboratively with lake property owners to encourage changes that will result in a healthier lake.

Features that may be cause for concern include: erosion of beach front, ice damage, invasive plants (for example cladophora, purple loosestrife, phragmites), sea walls and other shore hardening techniques, lawn too close to the lake, drain pipes and drainage ditches. An important part of the project is for the CLWA to educate riparians about property management practices that preserve Crystal's water quality.




Merganser trapping completed for 2019

CLWA's merganser trapping team completed the removal of all broods from Crystal Lake by the end of July.  The final count was 10 broods (one without the hen) and a total of 68 ducklings, 77 birds in all. This compares to 16 broods and a total of 143 birds captured in 2018. The team carried out a full lake survey on August 14, and confirmed that no more mergansers were present.

The mergansers were relocated to several different Michigan Department of Natural Resouces approved sites in northern Michigan, where the environment had been judged suitable for this species and where the snail host for producing swimmer's itch was not present.

Much of the success of this program is thanks to the active responses of the Crystal Lake community, who reported merganser brood sightings that began in mid-June. The CLWA is grateful for your participation and asks for your continuing support, so that the progress being made against swimmer's itch can be maintained into the future.

Look for additional reports on swimmer's itch incidence and snail infection rates in the near future, after final analyses are completed. In the meantime, you can continue to report cases of swimmer's itch by CLICKING HERE. Occurrences have so far been very low, but reports help us identify "hot spots" and specific conditions that produce new cases.



CLWA annual members meeting held on July 20

A large crowd of over 100 attended the 2019 CLWA annual members meeting on July 20. President Dave Wynne reviewed current programs and Treasurer Ron Ahrns described allocation of financial resources. The Crystal Circle Award was presented to Ted Fisher for his ten years of leadership in combating swimmer's itch. Jim Hamp, CLWA board member, summarized the results of the 3-year aquatic plant survey that was completed last year. Dennis Wiand of Zero Gravity Aerial described the methods that he has used to conduct a shoreline survey of Glen Lake using digitally enhanced aerial drone photography. The featured speaker, Glen Lake biologist Rob Karner, discussed how his lake association is using the survey data to manage and protect the lake. A similar survey is being carried out this summer on Crystal Lake.

New board members and officers were elected. READ THE DRAFT MINUTES HERE.



Water quality testing results for 2018 now available

As part of the Michigan Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program, the CLWA sponsors comprehensive scientific testing of Crystal Lake’s water. Monitoring provides advance warning, so that early action can be taken to protect Crystal Lake. The latest results are consistent with past years and show no significant problems. The full data report is available here.  The Benzie Conservation District carries out the testing on CLWA’s behalf, continuing the practice of water testing that was established by CLWA’s predecessor organizations decades ago. This invaluable body of data enables CLWA and other lake stewards to detect water quality degradation at an early stage, before any problems become extensive and irreversible.



New Michigan Boating Law to prevent introduction of invasive species

A new Michigan Boating Law that aims to prevent the introduction of invasive aquatic plants and animals goes into effect on March 21, 2019. An amendment to the state Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act 451 of 1994, the new law prohibits: the launch or transport of watercraft and trailers with aquatic plants attached; the transport of watercraft without draining all water from bilges, ballast and live wells; and the release of unused bait into the water. Violation of the law is a state civil infraction, subject to fines. This law encourages boat washing and thorough inspection of all kinds and sizes of water craft.

For the full text of the law CLICK HERE



Final report on 2018 swimmer's itch control program

Swimmer's Itch Control LLC, who carried out CLWA's swimmer's itch program during the summer of 2018, has now submitted its final report. The conclusions strongly support the preliminary results observed during  summer activities, and point the way toward the continuing efforts that will be needed in the future. To read the full report, click HERE.

The 2018 program consisted of several components: trapping and relocation of all common merganser broods on Crystal Lake (a total of 16 broods, 143 birds); assessment of lake-wide snail infection by collection and analysis of 2112 Stagnicola emarginata snails; analysis of 40 lake water samples by qPCR technique to detect presence of swimmer's itch-causing parasites; collection of avian schistosome worms from three breeding merganser hens; and training two local individuals in trapping and relocation techniques. This was the second year for trapping and relocation of all broods on the lake, and once again the riparian community proved to be extremely helpful by reporting sightings of broods.

The snail infection rate showed a 65% decrease from that found in the lake-wide snail assessment carried out in 2016. The qPCR analysis of the water samples detected the presence of the parasite species T. stagnicolae, suggesting that common mergansers are the only bird species responsible for swimmer's itch infection on Crystal Lake. These tests also showed higher concentration of parasites at two specific locations on the lake.

While numbers of actual swimmer's itch cases reported to the SIS website varied little from those reported in 2017, this can likely be ascribed to higher awareness of the availability of this feedback mechanism. Anecdotal evidence from all around the lake, including the detailed records kept at the Congregational Asssembly Beach, suggested that the number of cases was significantly reduced and seemed to be milder in impact.

In order to maintain the progress made to date, it will be necessary to continue the trapping and relocation of merganser broods into future summers. The two trained local individuals are now qualified to carry this out. CLWA will also continue to participate in various swimmer's itch research projects, some under the auspices of the Michigan Swimmer's Itch Partnership, so that swimmer's itch will cease to be a problem on Crystal Lake.



Benzie area students join 26th annual Walkabout in the watershed

On October 9 the CLWA conducted its 26th annual experiential educational project for middle school students, the Crystal Lake Walkabout. Sixth grade classes from Benzie Central and Frankfort/Elberta public schools visited locations around Crystal Lake to learn about the ecology of the watershed and the ways its qualities can be threatened. One aim is to foster appreciation for the important role that the watershed plays for the whole community, and to foster a sense of responsibilitty for its preservation. Some of the topics covered were water chemistry, invasive species, and swimmer's itch. A new feature this year was the participation of an aerial drone from Zero Gravity Aerial, which demonstrated how aerial photography is assisting the CLWA aquatic plant survey of Crystal Lake. Experts from the Benzie Conservation District and the NW Michigan Invasive Species Network led the students through hands-on exercises with the support of the Crystal Lake Walkabout Field Notebook, a specially designed workbook that each student received. Two dozen volunteers from the local community, including a large contingent from the Benzie Sunrise Rotary, helped the day move smoothly.

For more information, see the main Walkabout web page.



CLWA completes aquatic plant survey of Crystal Lake

In early August 2018 the CLWA completed the final phase of its comprehensive, three-year survey of the aquatic plants in Crystal Lake. Under the direction of board member Jim Hamp, and assisted by volunteers and the drone technology of Zero Gravity Aerial, the survey has provided an assessment of the established native species and the extent and types of invasive plants. The full analysis of this data over the coming months will provide the basis for future action.

The 2018 survey focused on the north shore and showed that aquatic invasives in Crystal Lake are still relatively limited in comparison to many other Michigan Lakes. Eurasian watermilfoil predominates, concentrated on the east end around the Beulah public boat launch, with a few other small patches.

Hamp estimates that the total amount of milfoil present is no more than 5 acres, which should be manageable with proper treatment in the future. Unless controlled, invasive plants can easily out-compete and dominate native species of plants, radically changing the health of the ecosystem of the lake.

One concern is that Crystal is very deep in some areas, and these locations are not reachable by current survey methods (either rake toss from a boat or aerial drone). Recent discoveries in Higgins Lake suggest that certain invasives may be present in these depths, which should be examined by additional methods.

The CLWA Aquatic Weed Survey was conducted under the auspices of the Michigan Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program and was intended to update a study done in 2008. It aims to compare the amount and type of weeds now to those found in the earlier work, and determine if beds are beginning or expanding. The identification and control of invasive species has been a long-time concern of the CLWA, leading to the construction of the boat washing station at the Mollineaux Road launch site in 2013.

For more resources on invasive species, go to: http://crystallakewatershed.org/water-quality/invasive-species



CLWA annual members meeting held on July 21

A large crowd of about 120 attended the 2018 CLWA annual members meeting on July 21. President Dave Wynne surveyed current programs and Treasurer Ron Ahrns described allocation of financial resources. The Crystal Circle Award was presented to Edward Hoogterp, past CLWA president, for his years of service and leadership. Jim Hamp, CLWA board member, and Dennis Wiand, Zero Gravity Aerial, provided information on the CLWA aquatic plant survey of Crystal Lake, which will be completed this year. Dr. Randall DeJong of Swimmer's Itch Solutions LLC described the work of merganser trapping and relocation that his company is conducting and presented preliminary results showing considerable success. A full report on this project will be posted here in the fall. New board members and officers were elected. READ THE DRAFT MINUTES HERE.



Final report on swimmer's itch control for summer 2017

CLWA contracted with Swimmer's Itch Solutions LLC to conduct swimmer's itch control activities on Crystal Lake during summer of 2017. It concentrated on trapping merganser broods and moving them to other waters where the swimmer's itch parasites are not present. By reducing one of the parasite hosts, the cycle that releases the parasites into Crystal is broken and swimmer's itch will be decreased. Glen and Higgins Lakes has already had positive results with these methods.

The public greatly assisted the success of this program by reporting sightings of merganser broods. As a result, SIS captured a total of 14 broods (including 116 ducklings) which have been relocated to Lake Michigan or Lake Huron. By late July, all merganser broods had been removed from Crystal Lake. This reduction in the merganser poplulation is expected to result in a lower infection rate in 2018. To read the final report on the summer's work, CLICK HERE



Michigan Lake and Stream Associations names CLWA "Lake Association of the Year"

The CLWA received the Michigan Lake and Stream Associations' "Lake Association of the Year" award at the MLSA's 2017 annual conference, held at Crystal Mountain Resort on April 21-22.The citation recognized the CLWA for its "outstanding leadership, teamwork and dedication to preserving and protecting Michigan's freshwater heritage for future generations." During the conference, the CLWA hosted an exhibit booth that featured its ongoing survey of aquatic plants on Crystal Lake, and highlighted other programs such as boat washing and the annual school Walkabout.



SICON LLC reports on 2016 swimmer's itch research program

During the summer of 2016, CLWA contracted with SICON LLC to implement a multi-faceted pilot program of swimmer's itch research and assessment on Crystal Lake. In September they submitted a report to the CLWA on their season's work, which includes several important conclusions:

  • Avian Schistosome Species Assessment

          Only one species of snail (Stagnicola emarginata) harbors the SI parasite. The primary waterfowl carrying SI parasites is the common merganser.

  • Whole-Lake Snail Infection Rate Assessment

          The severity of SI presence, as reflected in the infected snails, is generally low in comparison to other northwest Michigan inland lakes for which data exists. However, the ten sites around the lake that were sampled varied widely in the severity of their snail infection rate. The factors that determine this variability have not yet been identified.

The full report is available here. Additional results from lab analyses of cercariae and lake water are expected in the coming weeks.

SICON LLC, led by Dr. Curt Blankespoor from the University of Michigan and Ron Reimink, a biologist, is an organization that carries out research on swimmer’s itch and conducts control programs on inland lakes. It has previously provided effective swimmer's itch control programs for Glen and Higgins lakes. SICON’s website includes information on swimmer’s itch and control methods and provides a system for reporting SI cases.

CLWA is now evaluating the results of SICON’s 2016 program to decide whether it should be expanded into a broader control program during the summer of 2017.

Map showing sites where SICON collected snail samples.



Approved Watershed Plan points the way to future protection of Crystal Lake

The never-ending work of protecting northwest Michigan’s water received a major boost in September 2016 with federal approval of the Betsie River/Crystal Lake Watershed Management Plan. The document calls for investing more than $17 million in projects to protect lakes and streams in the 240-square-mile watershed, which extends from Frankfort Harbor on Lake Michigan to Interlochen and Mayfield Township in Grand Traverse County.

In its approval, the United States Environmental Protection Agency did not make any review comments, an indication of a "very good plan," according to district representatives of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, who also judged it a "well-written document that provides an appropriate mix of both broad and focused actions needed to protect the watershed's environmental quality."

This achievement marks a transition – not an end to the process – said plan co-author Ed Hoogterp, past-president of the Crystal Lake & Watershed Association (CLWA). “In the planning stage, the Steering Committee identified problems in the watershed and developed strategies for addressing them,” Hoogterp said. “Now, we move to the next phase, where we work to put the plans into action. This approval means the state and federal folks agree with our priorities and are ready to help. But the responsibility to make it happen still rests with our local communities.”

While the overall quality of the watershed is good, the 450-page plan calls for spending to address such ongoing problems as eroding bridges and culverts. pollution from fertilizers and septic systems, bacterial contamination on public beaches, swimmer’s itch, and the spread of aquatic invasive species. It also recommends protection of resources including groundwater, wetlands, forested slopes and other sensitive sites which can have an impact on water quality.

The WMP was completed through a $162,000 grant to Networks Northwest (formerly the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments) with CLWA as a subcontractor. Partners represented on the Steering Committee included the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, Conservation Resource Alliance, Benzie Conservation District, Green Lake and Duck Lake Association, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Friends of Betsie Bay, and state and local government agencies. CLWA President Joel Buzzell chaired the Steering Committee, while Hoogterp and Networks Northwest regional planner Scott Gest compiled the maps, data and other plan elements for review by the Steering Committee.

Watershed Planning is a requirement of the federal Clean Water Act. Approval by EPA means that implementation of the plan will be eligible for state and federal grant funding over the 10-year life of the document. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality endorsed the WMP earlier this summer.

The Betsie River/Crystal Lake Watershed Management Plan may be viewed or downloaded at the Networks Northwest website. Printed copies will be distributed to libraries and township agencies.