Stormwater Champions: Gail Heffner and Nate Haan

The West Michigan Environmental Action discussed stormwater management with two local stormwater champions, Gail Heffner and Nate Haan. Thanks to their efforts as a part of the Plaster Creek Stewards’ leadership team, stormwater management is highlighted as a necessity for caring for West Michigan water resources and future.

When all that water races through our stormwater system it goes directly untreated into Plaster Creek,” said Hann, “which means we get a lot of water that is carrying all kinds of pollutants.”

Heffner is the Plaster Creek Stewards’ director of community engagement while Haan works as the organization’s project manager. Both emphasize the importance of proper stormwater management as a tool for saving the Plaster Creek watershed from toxic levels of pollution. Stormwater is the leading source of water pollution for the Great Lakes and its tributaries. Plaster Creek contains high levels of E. coli and various other bacteria, high enough levels that the EPA recommends people avoid contact with it due to human health complications.

Heffner and Haan divide their organization’s work into three sections; education and outreach, research, and on-the-ground restoration in order to address the watershed’s most critical issues. The Plaster Creek Stewards consider stormwater management in Grand Rapids a critical issue since it lowers the community’s quality of life by degrading and polluting the water.

“Around 25 percent of Grand Rapids residents live within the Plaster Creek watershed,” said Heffner.  Locally, stormwater management for Plaster Creek will provide immediate benefits for Grand Rapids, but communities down river from Grand Rapids, and Lake Michigan will also benefit from a cleaner creek.

Heffner and Haan’s efforts to combat stormwater pollution include low impact developments, like rain gardens and bioswales, as well as community education and engagement on stormwater pollution and stormwater management techniques. Their work is set to expand even further with a recent state grant for $375,622 for Plaster Creek Stewards to continue repairing the watershed, including more stormwater management.

“If we were able to manage it more responsibly people would have a better resource to play and learn from,” said Haan. Continued stormwater management will play a crucial role as Heffner and Haan continue caring for the watershed in Grand Rapids and championing the need for safer, cleaner water.

Check out 15totheriver.org for more information on stormwater management or raingardens.org to learn about low impact development to manage stormwater on site.

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