89.1 WEMU

Issues Of The Environment: Expanding Lake Protections In The Huron River Watershed

Jun 26, 2019

Paul Steen, Watershed Ecologist for the Huron River Watershed Council and program manager of the Michigan Clean Water Corps
Credit Huron River Watershed Council / hrwc.org

The Huron River Watershed faces many dangers, including the introduction of invasive species and harmful chemicals.  In this week's "Issues of the Environment," Paul Sheen, who represents the Huron River Watershed Council and the Michigan Clean Water Corps, talks to WEMU's David Fair about the increased protection the Huron River Watershed recently received.


  • Fifteen new lakes in the Huron River Watershed were added to a monitoring program overseen by the Huron River Watershed Council last year.  Under the statewide Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program (CLMP), volunteers monitor 24 lakes in the Huron River watershed (see below for a list of lakes).  Volunteers collect data about the prevalence of invasive species, water quality, pollutants, and lakeshore habitat for lakes spanning Washtenaw, Oakland, and Livingston Counties.
  • The lake monitoring program is volunteer, citizen-scientists based, although citizens get training and assistance from the professionals who manage the program.
  • CLMP volunteers take a variety of measurements each spring and summer designed to indicate lake productivity—the amount of plant and animal life produced within the lake.  Humans can greatly hasten a lakes natural productivity as they supply nutrients, like phosphorus and nitrogen in lawn fertilizers, to the lake.  Lakes are classified by their productivity, with “eutrophic” being the label for lakes with excessive levels of nutrients such that oxygen levels are depleted and aquatic vegetation and algae are overly abundant.  Most of the lakes monitored in this program are mesotrophic, meaning they have a balanced level of nutrients, such that fish can thrive and some algae grows, and water quality is fairly clear.
  • Volunteers also seek to detect invasive aquatic vegetation in order to eradicate these species before they take over.  Curly-leaf pondweed, Eurasian watermilfoil, and starry stonewort are three invasive aquatic plants that have been discovered.
  • Paul Steen, Watershed Ecologist for the Huron River Watershed Council, program manager of the Michigan Clean Water Corps (MiCorps), a state-wide program focused on volunteer monitoring in lakes and streams.

Points from Paul Sheen

  • Lake monitoring occurs statewide through the Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program
  • It is volunteer, citizen-scientists based though citizens get training and assistance from the professionals who manage the program
  • Many lakes in the WEMU listening area participate
  • Volunteers monitoring secchi disk transparency, chlorophyll, phosphorus, and lakeshore habitat, in addition to aquatic plants.
  • The primary purpose of the program’s aquatic plant surveys is for early detection, in other words to locate invasive species before they take over.
  • Volunteers survey boat launches, public areas, shallow waters, and quiet bays.
  • Finding the plants before they get widespread greatly increases the chances of eliminating them.

Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program (CLMP)

Last summer, under the statewide Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program (CLMP), volunteers monitored 24 lakes in the Huron River watershed (see below for a list of lakes).  Thanks to financial and marketing support from Oakland County Commissioners, fifteen new lakes located in the Huron River watershed were included in HRWC’s 2018 survey.

Productivity and eutrophication

CLMP volunteers take a variety of measurements each spring and summer designed to indicate lake productivity—the amount of plant and animal life produced within the lake.  A lake naturally and gradually increases in productivity over time as plant material dies, decomposes, and releases nutrients into the water—a process called eutrophication.  Humans can greatly hasten this process when they supply additional nutrients, like phosphorus and nitrogen, to the lake—a process called cultural eutrophication.  Most lake management strategies are concentrated around slowing down the cultural eutrophication process so the lake stays clear and free from excessive algae and plant growth.

Lake types and transparency

Most of the 24 lakes in the Huron River watershed monitored by volunteers are mesotrophic (see side bar for definitions), the dominant type of lake in Michigan as a result of the areas glacial history and land use patterns.  A typical Michigan lake is a slow-flushing, deep kettle lake surrounded by houses with bright green lawns.  While a deep kettle lake will tend to have naturally low nutrient levels, over-fertilization of surrounding lawns boosts them into the mesotrophic nutrient level.  Water transparency is probably the easiest of the three trophic parameters to visualize.  Volunteers saw an average of 11 feet into the water column at the lakes they monitored.  The clearest lake was Silver Lake in Washtenaw County, with a transparency of 17 feet, and the murkiest lake was Tull Lake in Oakland County with a transparency of 4 feet.  The transparency in a eutrophic lake is often 5 feet or less, while transparency in an oligotrophic lake will be 15 feet or more.

Exotic Plant Watch

In addition to productivity measurements, lake volunteers are trained to identify five exotic plant species, which are a deeply problematic issue for many lakes.  CLMP’s intention is that volunteers find and report the plants before they spread and become nearly impossible to eradicate. Across the state, volunteers found invaders of Eurasian watermilfoil in 43% and starry stonewort in 38% of lakes surveyed.  In the Huron River watershed, fewer volunteers participated in this optional monitoring method.

Seven lakes were surveyed for exotic plants.  None were found in either Tull Lake.  However, Cedar Island, Mud, and Round lakes all had starry stonewort; Cross Lake had curly-leaf pondweed; and Mud and Round lakes had Eurasian watermilfoil.

The Exotic Plant Watch is perhaps the most important monitoring activity a volunteer can do to keep a lake healthy.  HRWC looks forward to training new people to conduct this critical field work.

Ensuring Safe (and Fun!) Field Outings

To ensure volunteers are readily identifiable, the HRWC logo was added to waders and safety vests.  Public Outreach HRWC developed a suite of talking points for use when discussing programs with members of the public, as well as training on how to handle confrontational interactions.

Property and Site Access

HRWC staff notify property owners, local law enforcement, and emergency dispatchers in advance of monitoring activities.  Field Training Volunteers are trained to identify, protect against, and mitigate risks in the field including poison ivy, thunderstorms, and ticks.

If you are interested in learning more about the CLMP, or seeing the data collected on a lake near you, visit https://micorps.net. If you have questions about becoming a CLMP volunteer within the Huron River watershed, please email psteen@hrwc.org.

Lake Name - County

  • Pleasant - Oakland
  • Pleasant - Washtenaw
  • Portage - Washtenaw
  • Round - Oakland
  • Sears - Oakland
  • Sherwood - Oakland
  • Silver (Green Oak) - Livingston
  • Tamarack - Livingston
  • Tull #1 - Oakland
  • Tull #2 - Oakland
  • Upper Straits - Oakland
  • Whitewood - Livingston
  • Baseline - Livingston
  • Brendal - Oakland
  • Cedar Island - Oakland
  • Cross - Oakland
  • Green - Oakland
  • Little Portage - Washtenaw
  • Long - Oakland
  • Mud - Oakland
  • Neva - Oakland
  • North - Washtenaw
  • Ore - Livingston
  • Oxbow - Oakland

As noted, most lakes in this area are mesotrophic.  The exceptions are:

Limnology 101

Lakes are often assigned one of the following categories based on their nutrient status.  Oligotrophic: low nutrients result in low lake productivity and very clear water.  This is great for swimming and boating but fish populations will be low.  Mesotrophic: moderate nutrients result in some algae growth. Swimming and boating can still be good and fish populations are larger due to a greater food supply for all parts of the food chain. Eutrophic: high nutrient levels cause excessive plant and algae growth.  When this growth decays, oxygen is taken from the water, which can potentially cause fish kills.  Hypereutrophic: like eutrophic lakes, but with even more plant and algae growth, and a greater likelihood of anoxia and fish kills.

List of Invasive Species

1.  Curly-leaf pondweed:

  • Habitat: Curly-leaf pondweed inhabits ponds, lakes, and slow moving streams.  Brackish, alkaline, or eutrophic conditions less than 3 meters in depth are preferable, although it can grow in waters up to 12 meters deep.
  • Native Range: Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia
  • U.S. Distribution: Unfortunately, curly-leaf pondweed has established itself in all of the continental U.S. except for Maine and South Carolina.
  • Local Concern: As with many invasive species, curly-leaf pondweed out-competes native aquatic plant species and reduces diversity.  Dense colonies can hinder fish movement as well as recreational activity.

2.  Eurasian watermilfoil

  • Habitat: Eurasian watermilfoil inhabits water bodies ranging from fresh to brackish. Areas that have been disturbed are prime habitats for this species.  Eurasian watermilfoil is very resistant and can overwinter in frozen lakes and ponds in the northern U.S. or survive over-heated bays in southern states.
  • Native Range: Europe, Asia, and North Africa
  • U.S. Distribution: Eurasian watermilfoil has been introduced to 45 states. Hawaii, Kansas, Wyoming, Idaho, and Nevada are the states without reports of introduction.
  • Local Concern: Eurasian watermilfoil forms large mats of floating vegetation that will shade-out native aquatic plants and impede recreational activities.  This species is not a valuable food source of waterfowl and may interfere with fish predation.  Thick vegetation like this can also clog residential or industrial water intakes.

3.  Starry stonewort

  • Habitat: This submerged annual macroalga invades lakes, ponds, reservoirs, and slow moving rivers.  It will inhabit freshwater habitats ranging from 3 feet to 95 feet in depth.
  • Native Range: Europe and western Asia
  • U.S. Distribution: Michigan, northern Indiana, southeastern Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the northeast United States
  • Local Concern: Starry stonewort forms dense mats in lakes and can significantly reduce the diversity of other aquatic plants.  Dense mats of vegetation can also impede movement of fish, spawning activity, water flow, and recreational activities.

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu