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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 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.