Living Sustainably: Watershed Monitoring is a Community Effort

By Dan Callam, Outdoor Discovery Center Macatawa Greenway
Macatawa Watershed ProjectAs Lake Macatawa and its watershed continue their slow, steady journey towards clearer water, Project Clarity partners continue keeping tabs on the progress.
Grand Valley State University’s Annis Water Resources Institute leads these efforts, with additional efforts led by Hope College’s Day1 Watershed program, the Outdoor Discovery Center, and the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council. These efforts provide data that gives feedback on projects and can alert the team to new issues.
Staff and students from Dr. Al Steinman’s lab at the Annis Institute are in the watershed at least once a month, collecting samples and measuring flow rates in several local streams. Several of these sites are located near large wetland complexes that have been restored through Project Clarity.

Institute staff are also out on Lake Macatawa four times a year, collecting samples and taking readings in each of the lake’s bays. Fish sampling also occurs early each fall, when the team uses nets and electroshocking to record the types, counts, and sizes of fish around the lake before returning them to the water.
Hope College’s Day1 Watershed program has built on years of work that Hope has done in the watershed. Engaging freshmen with faculty and older peer mentors, students are helping collect weekly water samples and examining water chemistry, microbial communities, and groundwater flow at more than a dozen sites around the watershed.
In addition to the work by local schools, project partners continue to engage with local citizen scientists. This included a new initiative this past year to get weekly updates on lake conditions from waterfront neighbors and boaters.
These citizen scientists recorded the color and clarity of lake waters at docks, road ends, and sites around the lake. Using Secchi discs – a weighted black and white disc about the size of a dinner plate – they measured the depth of the water at which the disc disappeared from view. They also recorded water color, whether it was a shade of brown, green, blue, or somewhere in between. This data supplements the sampling of the Annis Institute and provides a clearer idea of how quickly conditions in the lake change from season to season.
Upstream from the lake, volunteers help examine seven tributaries for other signs of water quality.  Benthic macroinvertebrates – bugs that can be found in streams and lakes – are an important indicator of water quality. As water quality increases, the numbers and types of bugs that are found also increase. These collections have involved everyone from students to seniors. Who doesn’t want to wade in streams in the name of science on a warm summer day?
As more than a hundred projects designed to improve water quality have been completed across the watershed since Project Clarity began, these ongoing monitoring efforts help provide a clearer idea on how the watershed is changing.
Outdoor Discovery Center Dan Callam is Greenway manager for the Outdoor Discovery Center Macatawa Greenway.

What: Macatawa River Cleanup
Who: Community volunteers and the Macatawa Watershed Project
When:1 to 4 p.m. April 29
Where: Dunton Park, 290 Howard Ave., Holland. Meet near the boat launch
How: Register at under “Get Involved.” Work will be on foot and in kayaks; boats,
paddles and life vests provided. Anyone under 16 must be with an adult.

What: Annual Project Clarity Update
Who: Project Clarity supporters and community members
When: 7:30 a.m. May 24
Where: Boatwerks, 216 Van Raalte Ave., Holland
How: $20 admission includes breakfast. Pre-registration required at 393-9453 or at

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.