By Melissa DeSimone, MLSA Executive Director

High water has been a hot topic around the Great Lakes but our inland lakes within Michigan are struggling with the water in even more ways than the coastlines. We have more water than we know what to do with. Do you know where the water around you comes from and where it goes? I am currently taking an amazing class through Purdue University called, Indiana Watershed Leadership Academy; there is a lot to know about the water flowing around us, how our actions effect that water, and there are many people who don’t know their watershed or even what a watershed is – let’s fix that!

Watersheds are broken up into areas based on where water is flowing from and where it is going to. I have been studying the St. Joseph River Basin Watershed which includes areas in Michigan and Indiana and then flows into Lake Michigan.

Gravel Lake, in southern Van Buren County for example, is in this watershed and can even be pinpointed to an area identified by a 12-digit hydrologic unit code also known as a HUC. (The greater St. Joe River Basin Watershed is identified by an 8 digit code, HUC 04050001, you can see in the map below that they added 4 more digits that indicate it is “zoomed in” on a specific area within the larger watershed).

Recently in my course of study, I created a Google map where I can record and share observations, photographs, and points of interest in my watershed. This is the beginning of what will be a full watershed inventory for my 12 digit HUC and you can see my progress so far at this link.

I would encourage everyone to learn as much as they can about their watershed and an interesting place to start is with what is called a windshield survey, this is what you do…

  • Start with a little research about the area you want to survey so you know where you want to look. Make some notes on a map (paper or digital) of any streams, drains, waterbodies, wetlands, etc. that you would like to take a look at. Satellite maps can be of great help but you may also want to check the drain maps provided by your county drain commission.
  • Bring some supplies – you will want a camera for pictures of what you see as well as a tape measure for measuring depth and width of streams, maybe even a garbage bag in case you see some litter. You will certainly want to have paper and pencil and/or a digital device to record notes on your observations as well. I have linked the guide I used with my class here: http://www.ecn.purdue.edu/SafeWater/watershed/inventoryf.pdf. I used Chapter 4’s worksheets and some sticky notes to jot down the observations that I added to the Google map of my inventory. To get a full picture of your watershed, you can use all the sections of this workbook to take detailed information.
  • You will need to bring at least one other person with you, I am not advocating that you drive around, take pictures, and jot down observations at the same time!
  • When you get home, create a new Google map, make pinpoints of the spots you visited, and add your notes and photographs to those spots. You could also do this using a paper map, spreadsheet, or diary of your observations. In the future, you can go back to observe the same locations to check for changes in water flow, erosion, pollution sources, etc.
  • If you have a stream that particularly interests you, consider joining the MiCorps: Volunteer Stream Monitoring Program, this program continues in 2020 even though the CLMP program is on hold until 2021.

    We would love to see your inventories from around the state if you decide to do a project like this one. You can share your google map or even just thoughts on your experience with us via email: info@mlswa.org or on social media.If you are not interested or able to get out in the field, you could also do a lot of research right on your home computer. Many watersheds have groups and councils that help to manage, make decisions, and educate people in their area – attend a meeting if you can, reach out, get involved. You may be surprised what you learn about the water around you and what you might be able to contribute to the watershed management process.

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