The Grand Traverse Bay Watershed Initiative works to educate the public about the importance of proper watershed management.
The Grand Traverse Bay Watershed Initiative was formed in 1991 to protect the water
quality of the Grand Traverse Bay. The Initiative takes a partnership approach to
protecting water quality based on watersheds (land that water flows across or under on its
way to a stream, river, or lake). The partnership is between the many private and public
sector organizations working to reduce pollution from nonpoint sources, which include such
things as agricultural chemicals and road salt. Since nonpoint source pollution comes from
many, many small sources instead of a few large ones, it is harder to control throughout
More than 100 institutions have renewed the partnership agreement which unifies the
interests of diverse groups around a common vision of protecting the bay. While the
agreement is not a legally binding document, it asks public and private agencies to lend
their name, money, expertise, or labor to help protect the watershed by such things as
reducing soil erosion, discouraging the misuse of fresh water, tracing harmful chemicals,
or other organized efforts.
The Initiative works to renew the Watershed agreement with participating institutions
because it provides an opportunity to solicit feedback and concerns from participating
members. It also reminds them that the Watershed is working proactively to improve the
surrounding watershed, and to ensure regional economic viability and quality use by future
generations. An office was established in 1994 to promote and facilitate the collaborative
efforts of the partners.
Although there are no guarantees a partnership approach ensures success, there is also
no guarantee that a strict government program would enjoy great success either. The
Initiative staff believes the probability of protecting the environment increases when
government looks beyond itself, and adds the expertise and vision of civic groups and
private citizens to keep the bay clean and protect the surrounding watershed.
Although there are no guarantees a partnership approach ensures success, there
is also no guarantee that a strict government program would enjoy great success either.
Consider a few important features of Grand Traverse Bay:
The bay is located in Northwestern lower Michigan along the eastern shoreline of Lake
Michigan and is widely recognized for its outstanding recreational features. The bay is
used for many recreational activities, including swimming, kayaking, boating, paragliding,
scuba diving, jet skiing, fishing, ice skating, and ice boating.
The bay contributes significantly to waterborne commerce, which includes charter
fishing, Native American fisheries, and bulk shipments of petroleum. The region’s
agricultural economy also benefits from this unique natural resource. The success of
Michigan’s cherry industry, for example, can be directly tied to the moderating
effect that the bay’s surface waters have on the region’s temperature.
Seventy-five percent of the shoreline is characterized by either commercial or residential
The region’s popularity is indicated by the population of the Grand Traverse Bay
watershed area which is growing seventeen percent every ten years, compared to the state
average of five percent.
One example of this public-private approach to protect water quality is a joint venture
between the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, a private, nonprofit group which
purchases land for preservation of scenic and farm land and the Grand Traverse County Soil
and Water Conservation District, a government agency, to financially sustain the Boardman
River Restoration Project.
The public-private venture of stabilizing riverbanks, road, and stream crossings to
reduce soil erosion into the Boardman River began with funding from the Michigan
Department of Environmental Quality. It is now funded through solicitations from private
property owners and stakeholders along the river. In addition, soil erosion control
offices and county and regional planners are partnering with private home building
associations and private developers to design and implement consistent soil erosion
control practices to protect water quality throughout the surrounding watershed. Federal
and state dollars are used as start-up costs but they may only carry a project for a year
or two. The probability of success increases dramatically with private efforts, such as
those led by the Initiative. In fact, there would be little or no likelihood that such a
program would continue without the Initiative’s efforts, let alone be as successful
as it is today.
Another interesting example of public-private partnerships is between the Grand
Traverse Regional Math, Science, and Technology Center, the Initiative, and a smattering
of other private organizations to establish a school-based water quality monitoring
program. The monitoring program will be expanded to businesses willing to train teams of
employees to take monthly water samples from adjacent tributaries. Such monitoring will
play an important role in protecting the environment by providing important information on
the state of the watershed. It also provides the Initiative with greater human resources
and gives local citizens the opportunity to give something back to the community in which
Protecting the water quality of the Grand Traverse Bay requires protecting the water
quality of the lakes, rivers, tributaries, feeder streams, groundwater, and precipitation
that all flow into it. When private citizens work toward a common goal, the task is not
only easier, it is more rewarding. The partnering of private nonprofit groups, private
citizens, business and government agencies serves many important functions—but few
are so vital as defending important resources like clean water and the watershed of the
Grand Traverse Bay area.