Living Sustainably: Combat groundwater challenges by watering wisely

By Rich C. Lakeberg, Ottawa County
Water – it’s one of the building blocks of life, and Michiganders are surrounded by it. With more than 3,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, one may assume Michigan could never face a water shortage.
But Ottawa County is facing such a challenge. To understand why, we need to look underground.
In Ottawa County, and in much of Michigan, municipal water drawn from the Great Lakes is only available to those near a city. In rural areas, drinking water is sourced from aquifers — pockets of saturated soil 50 to 350 feet below ground that are not connected to Lake Michigan.
Locally, there are two types of aquifers: glacial and bedrock. Glacial aquifers are the preferred well source; but when glacial sources aren’t available, bedrock aquifers are tapped. Normally, aquifers are replenished with rainwater. However, in many areas of Ottawa County, clay deposits block rainwater from reaching the bedrock aquifer.
“Based on seven years of scientific study, we’ve learned drinking water in the bedrock aquifer isn’t being replenished as quickly as it’s being removed,” said Paul Sachs, director of the Ottawa County Planning and Performance Improvement Department. In some instances, wells have run dry; in others,briny sediment has been pulled from the bottom, damaging plumbing and affecting water quality. To protect our groundwater from further decline, we need the community’s help to reduce outdoor water use.
As the weather warms, our attention turns to our yards. EPA data shows, on average, 30 percent of Americans’ daily water consumption is outdoors. By changing our landscaping habits, we can save H20.

Consider these tips to protect local water resources:
Smart irrigation – You may have a sprinkler system on a timer that runs rain or shine. By installing smart devices like rain sensors or a weather-based irrigation controller, thousands of gallons can be saved per year.
Rain barrels – Catch rain runoff to water your landscaping. The barrel can be connected directly to an irrigation system, or soaker hoses can be attached.
Consider replacing your grass lawn – Slow-growing groundcovers such as buffalo grass or clover can provide a green space that needs less water and mowing.
Shrink your lawn – Traditionally, turf grass covers the majority of a yard. Consider planting turf only where it’s needed. Low-traffic areas can be converted to gardens or buffers.
Plant native gardens – Consider replacing exotic plants ill-suited to our climate with natives that need little water, enrich the soil, and provide habitat.

By taking a few steps to reduce water use in our yards today, we can join in on the effort to ensure Ottawa County residents and stakeholders have permanent, sustainable access to clean water. For more information on Ottawa County’s groundwater challenges and what’s being done to address them, visit

 Rich C. Lakeberg is a communications specialist for the Ottawa County Planning and Performance Improvement Department, which uses tax dollars to deliver county programs and services for residents, visitors, and businesses through thorough planning and thoughtful evaluation.

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.

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.

Groundcovers such as buffalo grass do not need the heavy irrigation of traditional lawns, thus saving groundwater resources.
This landscape design incorporates native wildflowers and grasses that need less water, and features turfgrass only where it’s necessary. Photo courtesy
Buffalo grass is a native warm-season grass that is drought-tolerant and only grows to 4-5 inches in height. Photo courtesy