DeWitt’s Watershed Management Program serves a much bigger purpose than residents may know

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By Brittany Flowers
Clinton County Chatter Staff Reporter

Protecting storm drains in DeWitt Charter Township that drain into the Looking Glass River is is the goal of a plan adopted by the township in 2006.

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The Watershed Management Program was developed by Shiawassee County.

“The focus started from the federal level, the feds passed legislation requirements for watershed management and then that’s passed to each individual state. And then each individual state sets up their own program which is known as phase two,” DeWitt Township Manager Rod Taylor said.

The management program is responsible for the Looking Glass River Watershed, the purpose of the management plan, water quality conditions, protections tools, action plans and other aspects of pollution prevention.

Any type of dumping into storm drains is illegal, according to the DeWitt Township website, and illicit discharge is encouraged to be reported to the Michigan Pollution Emergency Alerting System which is managed by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

“I mean it’s hard to prevent it,” Clinton County Drain Commissioner Phil Hanses said, adding that they try to educate people on the stormwater management program.

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Looking Glass River in DeWitt

“There’s a group in Lansing called the Greater Lansing Regional Committee for Storm Water Management, and part of our charge there is public education, so we kind of try and develop some educational materials. Basically, only rain-in-the-storm drain type stuff,” Hanses said.

According to Taylor, there’s also a group in the Tri-County region that works together on public education and incorporates information from the Lansing Regional Committee for Storm Water Management.

“The biggest change that they’re trying to implement is changing how new development, and when new development is established what the requirements are for managing stormwater,” Taylor said.

Taylor said it used to be that developments wanted to get water off of their property as soon as possible and get it into the county drains so that it wasn’t their problem, but the problem with that was the contaminants automatically got flushed and ended up in the river.

“You have to keep more of the water on your property when the development occurs and then you also have to make sure you’re maintaining those systems,” Taylor said.

According to Taylor, there hasn’t been a change in old developments; it mainly refers to new developments.

“The ultimate goal is obviously to implement new systems that help keep our water clean,” Taylor said.

But why exactly is stormwater management, the Watershed Management Program, and the pollution prevention of the Looking Glass River so important in DeWitt?

“Water quality is important. All of our water from Clinton County ends up in Lake Michigan. The Red Cedar, the Maple, and the Looking Glass all outlet into the Grand which takes all the storm water to Lake Michigan. In order to protect that valuable resource, that’s why it’s important to keep oils and other pollutants out of the storm water,” Hanses said.

The management program wasn’t put in place merely to protect the Looking Glass River, but to prevent pollution from traveling from DeWitt all the way to the west side of the state and entering Lake Michigan.

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The development of the Watershed Management Program, has implemented many new practices to prevent pollution of the river, but are residents aware of this program and what practices they should be making?

Erin Campbell of the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission said they are working hard to make the public aware.

“We have a public education campaign that we really use for all our messaging and all of our materials and it’s called Pollution Isn’t Pretty,” Campbell said.

Through social media, the stormvwater website, ads, and even radio shows, Campbell said the Pollution Isn’t Pretty campaign has been used to make the public aware of what they can do to prevent pollution.

“Specifically what we do for the watershed management program and for the stormvwater program is really just educate homeowners about what they can do on their property to help reduce pollution, which in turn helps preserve our water quality and improve water quality,” Campbell said, adding “The storm drains go directly to the river without treatment, so that’s the key.

“We’re really trying to protect those storm drains and help residents understand that that does go directly to the river without treatment.”

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Campbell said the idea is to change knowledge and behavior, but have they been successful?

Tim Russell, owner of Family Tree Cafe in DeWitt said he doesn’t know where his water pipes drain to.

“I know where the water’s coming from. My guess is it’s getting drained, I don’t know it’s gotta be to the water treatment center of DeWitt, but I don’t know that,” Russell said.

One resident responded “nope” when asked if she knew anything about the Watershed Management Program and runoff into the Looking Glass River.

DeWitt resident Joan Overway said she wasn’t aware of the Watershed Management Program.

“As far as when we lived here you know, we just took care of our property. Now we own the golf course out there so we live in the stone house, and you know, we are very much aware on our golf course of what stuff we can use and not use because there is the river that goes through it,” Overway said.

Overway said she definitely thinks it’s important to maintain the rivers.

Dorothy King, DeWitt resident, said she is aware of pollution prevention and learned mostly about it through township newsletters and in the newspaper, but that she doesn’t do anything that she’s aware of to prevent that pollution.

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“When we moved here 10 years ago, the previous owners were actually on a six treatment fertilization program and we actually cut it down to like two but it’s not fertilizing, it’s more weed control,” King said.

King said she used to canoe on the Looking Glass River and beyond Acousta she didn’t know where the river led.

Campbell said legitimate surveys are done to find out if education efforts are having an effect.

“We did that basline survey [in 2006] and then in 2012 we came back and did the exact same survey again and our consultant was able to do a lot of comparison data for us so we could see like we increased the knowledge of people washing their cars the appropriate way by like 8 percent,” Campbell said. 

Campbell said that would be considered a significant increase in knowledge and what we would consider a true behavior change.

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