A Watershed Moment: Stormwater Management in Grand Rapids

The Grand River flowing through downtown Grand Rapids. Photo credit: http://wn.com/Flint

On the December 13 episode, we hear from Bill Byl, the Grand Rapids Drain Commissioner, as he explains stormwater management and how it effects West Michigan.

Before Michigan was settled, natural drainage created many wetlands. As people began to inhabit the area, water needed to be drained in order to avoid disease and to make room for arable land. This was done by building straight and deep ditches which swiftly moved water out of the way. This system, however, caused flooding downstream because water flowed so quickly.

Flood prevention during big storms evolved into the main purpose of stormwater management. However, this did not completely remedy water control or water pollution. Today, stormwater management in Michigan has four main goals: flood prevention, protecting the stream channel, improving and protecting water quality, and recharging groundwater. To achieve these goals, more natural solutions are being implemented. Stormwater runoff now follows more natural contours and utilizes floodplains and wetlands that moves and purifies water more effectively.

Poorly managed water can end in disaster. This past spring the powerful Mississippi River overflowed in the Deep South and flooded everything within reach.  The best place to manage the Mississippi River is in Minnesota where the contributing flows from the watershed first start. By the time the water gets so far South, it is usually too late to prevent flooding.

It is important to manage stormwater from as far up in the watershed as possible because it can be managed with less heavy construction and less costs than trying to fix things further downstream. In Grand Rapids, managing water upstream is one of the many ways West Michigan’s water is cared for.

Listen to the full interview here.

Please visit 15toriver.org for more detailed information about stormwater, its problems and how you can help manage it on your own property as well as city-wide.

“A Watershed Moment” is a weekly radio program focused on environmental news and happenings in West Michigan, plus solutions for living a greener life.  Broadcast on WYCE-FM 88.1 on Tuesdays at 8:30am and 5:30pm, this program is produced by Grand Rapids Community Media  Center and West Michigan Environmental Action Council.

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