People looking at a plant identifying different species

New Center offers Programs to Encourage Stewardship of Freshwater Lakes and Streams

Story by Paige Filice, Jo Latimore, and Lois Wolfson

A new center focusing on Extension and research activities in the conservation and stewardship of Michigan’s lakes and streams is being developed by water professionals and Extension educators at Michigan State University.  The Center for Lakes and Streams will consolidate the many programs MSU Extension and its partners offer to residents and user groups throughout the state and work with campus faculty and specialists, state agencies, other Universities, decision makers, agricultural producers and nonprofit, community, and riparian organizations to provide the most current information on the state of Michigan’s inland waters.

Michigan has more than 11,000 inland lakes greater than five acres in surface area and over 1100 lakes greater than 100 acres. Each one offers unique recreational, scenic, and environmental benefits. There are also 36,000 miles of streams, and about 12,000 miles have been designated as trout streams. Programs that will be offered through the Center focus on topics ranging from lake and stream ecology to water law to community involvement and emerging issues. 

MSU Extension was recently awarded a grant to assume responsibility for the long-running Michigan Clean Water Corps Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program or MICorps, working in partnership with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), the Michigan Lakes and Streams Association, and the Huron River Watershed Council (HRWC).  The program will be a part of the newly created Center for Lakes and Streams.

MiCorps volunteers identifying different aquatic plants species.

The MiCorps Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program was originally launched in 1974 and is the second oldest volunteer lake monitoring program in the US. Dedicated volunteers monitor the water quality of their lakes to document changes over time. Participants collect data on a variety of different parameters including Secchi disk transparency, phosphorus, chlorophyll, dissolved oxygen, temperature, shoreline habitat, and invasive and native aquatic plants. Data collected by volunteers are available for use by local communities, researchers in water resources management and in multiple protection programs. MSU Extension provides training, equipment, support, and laboratory analytical services to the volunteers and creates individual data summary reports for each participating lake annually.

MiCorps also offers a Volunteer Stream Monitoring Program, providing support to nonprofit organizations and local units of government for monitoring the health of streams and rivers. Volunteers regularly evaluate benthic invertebrate communities and physical stream habitat. Both the lake and stream programs provide training, support, and assistance with developing quality assurance project plans to the participants along with a competitive grants program to help fund their efforts.

In 2022, there were 283 Michigan lakes enrolled in the program. Data from those lakes and hundreds of stream sites were submitted data into the MiCorps open access database, adding another year of long-term monitoring data available for local management planning and regional research and assessment.

Another program of the Center for Lakes and Streams is the Introduction to Lakes Online course.  It is a six-week course with topics on lake ecology, watersheds, shorelines, aquatic plant management, Michigan water law, and community involvement. The course is cohort-based, so all participants advance through the program together in a collaborative manner. Each unit includes closed-captioned video lectures, interactive activities, additional learning resources, discussion forums, and a quiz. As part of the course, three Ask-an-Expert webinars are included and feature Michigan State University experts and state agency staff allowing participants to ask questions related to the content in the course.

More than 1800 people across the country have participated since the class was first offered online in 2015. In 2022, 520 participants from 69 of the 83 Michigan counties, 19 states, and 3 countries took the course. Of those, 96% completed the course. Introduction to Lakes Online was recognized by the North American Lake Management Society (NALMS) with their Leadership and Service Award for Community Education and Outreach in 2017.

A mobile boat washing station set up in the summer months as a part of the Clean Boats, Clean Waters program. Photo by Paige Filice

Another example of a program connected with the Center deals with aquatic invasive species. With the abundant water resources that Michigan has, it is not surprising that aquatic invasive species are a major issue. MSU Extension coordinates two statewide aquatic invasive species programs: Clean Boats, Clean Waters and Reduce Invasive Pet and Plant Escapes (“RIPPLE”) in cooperation with state agencies and the USDA Forest Service.

Clean Boats, Clean Waters is a comprehensive boater education program designed to prevent new aquatic invasive species introductions and limit their dispersal from water recreation activities through outreach and engagement. The program promotes understanding of boat cleaning practices and regulations through the distribution of educational materials, an online resource library, a reservable mobile boat washing unit, and a small grants program. The program is coordinated in partnership with EGLE and the Huron-Manistee Forests of the US Forest Service and receives funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.  Since 2021, the program has awarded 29 organizations over $76,000 to conduct invasive species education in their local areas. Further, the mobile boat wash program supported four crew members who, in 2022, spoke with nearly 580 boaters and washed nearly 130 boats to help stop the spread of invasive species.

While most non-native animals and plants available in pet stores and garden centers are environmentally benign and economically valuable, some become invasive and cause significant harm if released into the wild. To address this issue, the “Reduce Invasive Pet and Plant Escapes (RIPPLE)” program was developed. RIPPLE offers educational information to aquarium hobbyists and water gardeners about what to do with pet fish and overgrown plants, so they do not get accidentally or purposely introduced into lakes and streams. Through RIPPLE, hobbyists and retailers receive aquatic plant and animal handling and disposal information, trainings, and free educational materials. The program is financially supported through the Michigan Invasive Species Grant Program.

RIPPLE is Michigan’s first statewide organisms in trade program specifically working on aquatic invasive species issues specific to the pet and garden industry. Since launching in 2015 over 65 locally owned pet and garden retailers, 8 aquarium and pond clubs, 30 environmental organizations, 3 zoos and aquariums, 20 state and county park systems, and 22 school systems have partnered with RIPPLE.

The development of this Center will help MSU Extension water professionals continue to facilitate communication and partnerships that advance stewardship and conservation of aquatic resources. One outstanding example is the facilitation of the Michigan Inland Lakes Partnership (Partnership). The Partnership was built out of the realization that Michigan’s major lake stakeholders – managers, users, property owners, governments, educators, researchers – rarely had opportunities to discuss lake topics together, unless a conflict arose.

Today, the Partnership has a 15-year history of convening quarterly in an inclusive dialogue among representatives from the professional lake management community, natural resource agencies, academia, and nonprofit organizations. Members learn from one another, build relationships, and grow to understand and respect one another’s perspectives on the often-complex issues of inland lake management and conservation. 

Consolidating these and many other programs under the Center for Lakes and Streams will help increase recognition of the expertise and services that MSU Extension provides, attract new partners, increase funding opportunities, and help external stakeholders find the many programs, products and services offered.

Paige Filice, Michigan State University Extension

Headshot of Paige Filice

Paige Filice is a Natural Resources Educator at Michigan State University Extension. Her work focuses on promoting the wise use and protection of Michigan’s freshwater ecosystems through outreach and engagement. Her current responsibilities include coordinating two statewide aquatic invasive species education programs and co-leading the Introduction to Lakes Online course. Paige has a master’s degree in Fisheries and Wildlife from Michigan State University and a bachelor’s degree in Conservation Leadership from Lake Superior State University.

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