For West Michigan residents and businesses, water is important—not only for sustaining life, but to the economy and the region’s identity as well. Attendees at the July WMSBF luncheon meeting had the opportunity to hear Jon Allan of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and Travis Williams, Executive Director of the Outdoor Discovery Center Macatawa Greenway discuss Michigan’s water resources from both a local and statewide perspective. Dave Koster, General Manager of the Holland Board of Public Works also presented on new energy production systems and retrofits as well at the July 14 meeting, held at the Michigan State University Bioeconomy Institute.
Allan, who serves as the Director of the Office of the Great Lakes for the MI DEQ, was quick to highlight the significance of Michigan’s water resources in his presentation on the Governor’s Water Management Strategies for the Great Lakes. The six quadrillion gallons of water in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence water systems have created fourth largest water-based business sector in the United States in the Great Lakes State, with over 21 percent of the Michigan jobs existing in water-related fields. “That doesn’t include the wide stream economy, or tourism and recreation,” he said.
According to Allan, the challenge facing Michigan is managing pollution and water quality, as well as water distribution and use in communities. After centuries of deforestation, industrialization and mineral extraction in Michigan, erosion and pollution issues are becoming critical in many Great Lakes watersheds. Future issues include increased global demand for food and water, and the expansion of agriculture across the state in recent decades.
“We have to think about how we meet the world markets, and the world demand and the fourth largest economy in the world, but condition our behavior on a different set of social expectations,” Allan said.
To work towards a sustainable future for the Great Lakes and water in Michigan, Allan and the Office of the Great Lakes have created a strategic plan that focuses on creating healthy systems, including water bodies themselves and management and maintenance practices, as a base for which future human use of water can stand on. “You can’t have uses bigger than what the system can support,” Allan said. “We tried that way and it didn’t work.”
“Well, actually, we created a lot of wealth, but we’re also paying a fortune now to undo some of that [damage],” he continued.
The comprehensive state-wide plan also incorporates development for technologies that can make water-based industry more sustainable, and closer observation and investment in Michigan’s water infrastructure.
For Williams, similar goals play a part in his work on restoring and maintaining the Macatawa Greenway, a natural corridor that stretches along the Macatawa River through Holland and Zeeland. In particular, Williams described Project Clarity, an initiative that has played a key role in restoring a healthy, functional water system in the Macatawa Watershed.
During the first two years of Project Clarity, progress has already taken place thanks to a health public-private funding and support partnership that has provided the program with $12 million in funds and several property acquisitions along the Greenway for restoration.
“We realized that waiting for government to act or waiting for grants to come down on our watershed was not working. That’s what was being done before because that’s what we could do,” said Williams. “It simply was not coming quick enough and at the level and the rate that was going to allow us to function the way we needed to.”
Future efforts on the 5-year Project Clarity timeline will include extensive wetland and floodplain restoration along the Macatawa and implementation of best management practices to control sediment and runoff, as well as non-point source pollution.
Koster’s presentation on new power generation opportunities in Holland featured an outline of several different adaptations the Holland Board of Public Works is implementing over the course of coming years to make the city’s energy more sustainable. Notably, Koster outlined the construction of a new combined cycle natural gas-fired plant which will produce the majority of the city’s power, reducing the carbon footprint and emissions produced by the city. The current main unit at the coal-fired James DeYoung plant in Holland will cease burning coal in 2016, with a complete cessation of coal use in 2024.
In addition, Koster noted that the Holland BPW will generate 10 percent of its power from renewable resources ahead of state-mandated timelines, by 2014. Notably, new wind farm construction in the Ithaca will provide the West Michigan region with an additional 17 megawatts of power generation capacity.