Living Sustainably: Water, water everywhere? Not so much, anymore

By Paul Sachs, Ottawa County

One of Ottawa County’s most alluring features is its water. For as far as the eye can see, Lake Michigan’s crystal-blue waters lap up against our expansive sandy shoreline. Twenty-four miles of coastline provide the perfect backdrop for walking, swimming, kayaking, boating, and fishing.

But what we can’t see, and something that is threatening our quality of life, is a serious groundwater issue: The deep underground aquifer system that supplies water to Ottawa County wells is declining.

Water levels in Ottawa County’s deep aquifer, supplying wells for one in four county homes, have declined 40 feet in the last 40 years and are projected to drop another 20 feet by the year 2035.

Residents get their drinking water in one of two ways – from municipal pipeline systems that pump water from Lake Michigan, or from private wells that pump water from the underground aquifers. Of the more than 104,000 households in Ottawa County, one in every four homes uses groundwater as their primary source of drinking water.
The groundwater issue in Ottawa County involves the deep bedrock aquifer, located more than 100 feet underground. A seven-year scientific study determined that a thick layer of clay is preventing water from re-entering the deep bedrock aquifer. As groundwater is continually pumped out of the aquifer, the system is not being “recharged” fast enough to keep up with demand.
Furthermore, as water levels continue to decline, water quality is worsening due to naturally occurring brines (salt) found in the aquifer. Elevated levels of sodium chloride can corrode pipes, damage crops, and potentially exacerbate health concerns.

Water levels in the deep aquifer have declined 40 feet in the last 40 years and are projected to drop another 20 feet by the year 2035. While we tend to think that water is abundant in our lakeshore county, we need to start thinking differently about our water usage in order to sustain this natural resource.
Ottawa County is implementing a comprehensive groundwater management plan to address this issue head-on, but it will take a village to stop this slow leak. Do your part to help sustain our excellent quality of life by making these four water conservation tips a part of your routine:
1. Practice smart lawn care: Ask yourself, how important is having a green lawn? Homeowners use over 2 billion gallons of water annually in Ottawa County watering their lawns.
2. Load up washers: Start your dishwasher or washing machine when full. Older units use up to 16 gallons of water per cycle.
3. Turn off the faucet: Turn off the faucet when brushing your teeth. Faucets use more than two gallons of water per minute.
4. Low-flow devices: If you don’t already have low-flow toilets or faucets, install them to save water, and money.
For more information about Ottawa County’s groundwater issues, visit Also, this past week, March 10-16, was also National Groundwater Awareness Week. Learn more here:

 Paul Sachs is director of planning and performance improvement for Ottawa County, where he is responsible for implementing innovative, pragmatic solutions that positively impact quality of life and economic growth in the county.

This Week’s Sustainability Framework Theme
Community Knowledge: The collective knowledge and energy of the community is an incredible resource that must be channeled to where it is needed.

Living Sustainably is a collection of community voices sharing updates about local sustainability initiatives. It is presented by the Holland-Hope College Sustainability Institute, a joint project of Hope College, the City of Holland and Holland Board of Public Works. Go to for more information.

Living Sustainably: On-going study looks at improving Lake Mac health

By Dan Callam ’09, ODC Network
How can you tell if a lake is healthy? It’s not as simple as what’s in its water and on its shores.
Lake Macatawa’s watershed – the area that drains into it – comprises most of the greater Holland/Zeeland area and is made up of neighborhoods, shopping and business districts, and farmland.
Over the past five years, local partners have worked to improve conditions in Lake Macatawa and its watershed by reducing sources of phosphorus through the Project Clarity initiative.
There are several important indicators we use to tell not just how healthy Lake Mac is, but the health of its watershed as well. Phosphorus is a nutrient that can lead to algae blooms and is attached or accompanied by sediment that makes the lake appear murky. These conditions are detrimental to aquatic life and limit the number and abundance of species that can be found in the lake.
Researchers from the Annis Water Resources Institute at Grand Valley State University continue to monitor conditions around Lake Macatawa. They take readings at five locations around the lake several times a year, with additional support from Hope College and a number of volunteers.
Along with phosphorus, the team measures algae concentrations and the clarity of the water. The average annual concentration of phosphorus in the lake was 72 parts per billion in 2018, the lowest annual reading since state and federal monitoring began in the 1970’s. While these levels are still not low enough for the lake to be considered healthy, the trend is encouraging.

We need to bear in mind that there are going to be ongoing stressors that impact the health of the watershed. Some of these are beyond our community’s immediate control, such as ongoing changes to our climate.
However, there are other factors that we can more easily address, like developing our community wisely and finding ways to encourage water to infiltrate into the ground, rather than pave land and pipe water to the nearest stream.
Macatawa Watershed ProjectProject Clarity and our partners have been able to implement more than a hundred projects since the effort began in 2014. While there are good examples of these types of green infrastructure projects, we need these to become the default way – rather than the exceptions – of building, farming, and doing business.
Findings about the lake are shown in the Lake Macatawa Dashboard Report, which is available at or at The full 2018 monitoring report will be
available later this spring.
 Dan Callam is the Greenway manager at the ODC Network. He helps oversee Project Clarity as well as the Macatawa and Kalamazoo River greenway efforts.  Dan graduated from Hope College in 2009.

This Week’s Sustainability Framework Theme
Community Knowledge: The collective knowledge and energy of the community is an incredible resource that must be channeled to where it is needed.

Living Sustainably is a collection of community voices sharing updates about local sustainability initiatives. It is presented by the Holland-Hope College Sustainability Institute, a joint project of Hope College, the City of Holland and Holland Board of Public Works. Go to for more information.

Living Sustainably: Panel to discuss complexity of affordable housing

By Hannah Gingrich, Living Sustainably Along the Lakeshore

The Holland area suffers from a significant lack of housing that full-time workers in this area can afford.

“Affordable housing is not a simple subject” might be the understatement of the year.  Regular consumers of local news have undoubtedly noticed this topic repeatedly featured in recent city discussions.

Housing issues affect everyone, though in different ways. Even the casually interested likely have heard friends or coworkers mention how difficult it is to find a place to live or how stressed out they are when faced with an upcoming move, wondering if they will be able to find a situation they can afford.

The next Living Sustainably Along the Lakeshore program will address how housing issues affect us and our neighbors. Four local housing experts will talk about what affordable does and could look like in Ottawa County at “Quality of Life: The Affordable Community,” to be held 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 5, at Herrick District Library, 300 S. River Ave.
All kinds of people are significantly affected by the lack of available housing at their price point.
Housing Next’s May 2017 Impact Report, the most recent available, points out the large number in our community who fall in the ALICE category – ALICE, or Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed.
That threshold is $56,400 for a family of four.

The lack of housing that can be afforded by area workers is a major issue in Holland.

Housing Next is a local initiative seeking to support all income levels needing affordable housing.
Housing Next’s impact report recounts stories of seniors, recent graduates, factory workers, single mothers, and disabled adults struggling to make ends meet.
In one example, Sue and Tom both make $10 an hour working at a factory. They like the area and want to stay, but their monthly income barely meets their expenses. Sometimes it comes down to a choice of what bill gets paid that month – rent or car insurance, day care or food.
In another example, Tamara has a full-time job. As a single mother making minimum wage, she was forced to look for more affordable housing when her work hours became erratic. However, she couldn’t find anything near work and had to rent an apartment half an hour away, despite being concerned about her car’s reliability. She must now spend much of her budget on transportation.
Housing and homelessness aren’t simply issues of poverty. Jobs paying low wages may not have been intended for individuals supporting families, but that situation has become the new reality. How do you manage to live a life of quality when your paycheck barely covers the roof your head?
But building affordable housing doesn’t come cheap.
It might seem like a simple matter of budgeting a building to keep it low-cost. But not only does an affordable housing development require the same real estate purchases, zoning approvals, and building expenses as market-rate rentals, it often comes with additional challenges. Neighbors may contest building sites, and the grants needed to make projects financially feasible lengthen the process, which
ultimately drives up cost.
These kinds of issues will be addressed by the panel of experts at the next Living Sustainably program on March 5. Included in the evening will be a drawing for a $20 Lakeshore Habitat for Humanity ReStore gift card

 Hannah Gingrich is a public services assistant at Herrick District Library, a Living Sustainably Along the Lakeshore partner.

“Quality of Life: The Affordable Community”
Who: Ryan Kilpatrick of Housing Next; Laura Driscoll, director of housing services at Good Samaritan; Angela Maxwell from Community Action House, and Chad Frederick from the geography department faculty at Grand Valley State University
Where: Herrick District Library, 300 S. River Ave.
When: 6:30 to 8 p.m., Tuesday, March 5
Admission: Free

This Week’s Sustainability Framework Theme
Quality of Life: The community, through governmental, religious, business and social organizations, makes decisions that contribute to its own well-being.

Living Sustainably is a collection of community voices sharing updates about local sustainability initiatives. It is presented by the Holland-Hope College Sustainability Institute, a joint project of Hope College, the City of Holland and Holland Board of Public Works. Go to for more information.

Living Sustainably: Good business is doing good for the community

By Hanna Schultz, People First Economy
It’s 2019, and with the new year comes inspiration, a renewed sense of purpose, and the added drive to become the best version of yourself you can be.
So, why would your approach to your business be any differently? This last year has seen economic growth and opportunity for many businesses, and it has also uncovered a desire for many businesses to embrace their values in a different, more meaningful way.
In West Michigan, many businesses align their practices with the values that the owners and employees hold dear in everyday life. This is among the reasons that locally owned businesses are statistically more philanthropic, environmentally responsible, and intentional toward community engagement. Many of these values have been more or less “unspoken” for many years, even generations, as the businesses themselves have grown or gone through seasons of change.
The Good For Michigan program wants to help businesses institutionalize and benchmark their impact, while providing real-time data that tracks all of the positive effects that the business has on the environment, their employees, and the community as a whole.

Good For Michigan offers resources for businesses that want to learn and do more for their communities. These opportunities include educational workshops. Details for upcoming events can be found at
The crux of the program is the Quick Impact Assessment, which is a tool that any business can use to get a snapshot that measures and quantifies the positive impact it is making in its local community. The assessment (or the QIA, as it’s fondly called) is free for any business to take, and the information gathered is confidential.
The QIA is a 60-minute assessment that measures dozens of best practices for employee, community and environmental impact. Business owners can also see how they compare to other businesses nationally.
This assessment is ideal for business owners who are interested in learning about how they can use their business to make a positive social and environmental impact in their community.  Businesses of all sizes and industries are invited to participate.
A diverse range of West Michigan businesses are already participating in Good For Michigan, from engineering firms to a breweries to restaurants, housing development companies, design firms and more.
Visit for more information or to take the Quick Impact Assessment for your business.
You can help keep the business community in West Michigan a leader in responsible business practices!

 Hanna Schulze is development manager at People First Economy, the organization that runs the Good For Michigan program. Hanna has worked in economic development for over five years and finds the most value in her work when she can help small business owners grow their business intentionally using sustainable principles.

This Week’s Sustainability Framework Theme
Economic Development: Businesses and the local consumers are driving engines that generate capital for growth and development. We want to be a location of choice for new business and industry.

Living Sustainably is a collection of community voices sharing updates about local sustainability initiatives. It is presented by the Holland-Hope College Sustainability Institute, a joint project of Hope College, the City of Holland and Holland Board of Public Works. Go to for more information.



Hemlock woolly adelgid, the invasive and destructive insect, which sucks the sap from North American hemlock trees and dooms many of them, has taken hold in the Hope College Nature Preserve and a team of faculty and students are studying the impacts.

The research team includes Dr. Kathy Winnett-Murray and Dr. Greg Murray. The veteran husband-wife educators have teamed up with Dr. Vanessa Muilenburg, an entomologist, to assess the extent of the adelgid infestation and determine the importance of hemlock trees in West Michigan forests. They spent summer 2018 doing field work with three Hope students: Katelyn DeWitt ’21 and biology majors Analise Sala ’19 and Micaela Wells ’19.

The researchers spent many hours amid the hemlocks in Hope’s nature preserve about five miles southwest of the campus, near the Lake Michigan shoreline, and at three other sites in Allegan and Ottawa counties. Winnett-Murray says that because of Lake Michigan’s unique influence in creating moisture-rich and canyon-like dune troughs, West Michigan is one of the few places in the Great Lakes region where hemlocks thrive amid forests of beech and maple trees.

Read the full piece by following this link:


Jim McFarlin ’74, an award-winning writer, critic and blogger, is a 2019 recipient of Hope College’s Distinguished Alumni Award.

Additional information can be found at:

FOR ALL OF GOD’S GOOD EARTH (Hope College Spera Magazine)


“A term like ‘earthkeeping’ is more biblical and simply refuses to accept the view that the natural world is a commodity to be used by humans who only manage its resources for our own ends,” he explains. “Being a keeper, in the biblical sense, means being someone who serves and protects. So the term ‘earthkeeping’ creates an image that much more clearly captures the idea that we are creatures called by God to take care of creation.”

Read the full piece by following this link:


Eva Dean Folkert ’83 writes extensively about Hope people, research, sports and news.

Happening: A Clean Energy Revolution – Thursday, February 21

Please join the Macatawa Creation Care Group on Thursday, February 21 in Graves Hall for a film screening of “Happening: A Clean Energy Revolution.”

Doors open at 5:45, and the film starts at 6:00. The film will be followed by a panel of representatives from the City Of Holland, Holland Board of Public Works, and West Michigan Community Sustainability Partnership.

View the trailer here:

““I know it’s going to change because when I talk to young people, they are not even questioning that it’s happening, they just understand it.  I feel like it’s just happening.”  Lisa Jackson Vice President Environment, Policy, and Social Initiatives, Apple Inc.”

SYNOPSIS:  Filmmaker James Redford embarks on a colorful personal journey into the dawn of the clean energy era as it creates jobs, turns profits, and makes communities stronger and healthier across the US. Unlikely entrepreneurs in communities from Georgetown, TX to Buffalo, NY reveal pioneering clean energy solutions while James’ discovery of how clean energy works, and what it means at a personal level, becomes the audiences’ discovery too. Reaching well beyond a great story of technology and innovation, “Happening” explores issues of human resilience, social justice, embracing the future, and finding hope for our survival.

Living Sustainably: It’s all about global “weirding”

By Sarah Irvin, Naturalist at DeGraaf Nature Center

Climate change is altering wind patterns, affecting bird migrations and forcing birds, such as this pine siskin, to adapt their behaviors.

Climate is defined as the weather in a particular area over a large time period, which unveils patterns when recorded, allowing us to create models that mimic and make predictions.
Unfortunately, climate trends will become increasingly more challenging to predict as temperatures and precipitation events shift; the phenomenon that we have named “global warming” might more accurately be called “global weirding.”
While it is true that the planet is warming on average, it is the ever-increasing rate of change and values outside of acceptable climate variability that are concerning.

Changes in temperature patterns are altering when flowers bloom, affecting human allergies and insect behaviors.

The U.S. Global Climate Change Research Program conducted an evaluation and concluded the following about what types of changes to expect in the Midwest over the next century:
 Plants: In the early growing season, agricultural yields will be reduced by rising temperatures, excessive soil moisture, and erosion from increased rain. In the late growing season, invasive species and pests currently stressing our plants will worsen from an increased frequency of drought. Water stress on all plants will eventually lead to a lowered species diversity and productivity in our forests.

Climate changes are altering ice cover on Lake Michigan, which can affect evaporation, water temperatures and health of the water ecosystem.

 Water: Our Great Lakes are not receiving the annual ice cover that we are used to seeing, allowing evaporation to occur year-round (with summer evaporation rates increasing).
Changes in water level and temperature can stress native species, creating opportunities for invasive species and toxic algal blooms.
An Environmental Protection Agency study projects that decline in water quality, along with increased storm impacts, will negatively affect Michigan coastal communities.

 Animals: Migrating birds will fight stronger headwinds on a longer journey south, but return with the push of the wind, allowing them to conserve energy and arrive at their breeding grounds healthier. Biologists’ already are seeing birds adapting their flight paths and have hope that the gradual nature of the change will allow them to continue to adjust.
But they also note that imbalanced adaptations in lifecycles or bloom times could decrease food availability across all animals.
At the same time, ecosystem services such as flood control, water purification, and crop pollination provided by plants and animals will decrease as species diversity declines and habitats degrade.

 People: With warming temperatures, pollen seasons will likely extend, impacting people with seasonal allergies. And within our human infrastructure, we can expect property damage and disrupted transportation from increased heavy rain events, subsequent flooding, and erosion, according to the assessment. Most people will notice these changes slowly, but those already vulnerable will only become more so.
With the vast interconnected nature of our environment, no change can happen in isolation. Change is a natural, unavoidable part of our planet. We just have to do what we can to limit our impact, and thwart the speed and scale of changes occurring now.

 Sarah Irvin holds degrees in geology and terrestrial ecology and is a naturalist at DeGraaf Nature Center. The views expressed here are hers alone and not representative of DeGraaf Nature Center.

This Week’s Sustainability Framework Theme
Environmental Awareness/Action: Environmental education and integrating environmental practices into our planning will change negative outcomes of the past and improve our future.

Living Sustainably is a collection of community voices sharing updates about local sustainability initiatives. It is presented by the Holland-Hope College Sustainability Institute, a joint project of Hope College, the City of Holland and Holland Board of Public Works. Go to for more information.

International Day of Women and Girls in Science – February 11

Related imageThe United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed Monday, February 11 as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. According to a UN study from 14 countries, the probability for female students graduating with a bachelor’s degree in science is 18 percent, while the male equivalent is 37 percent. This day is a reminder that women and girls play a critical role in science and technology communities and that their participation should be strengthened.


Read about some of our fantastic champions from Hope College!

International Day of Women and Girls in Science