by Dr. Paul Steen
Huron River Watershed Council
The Michigan Clean Water Corps (MiCorps) is a lake and stream volunteer-based monitoring program that has existed since 2004, primarily under the management of Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (but has enjoyed management by many other government acronyms as well like DNR, DNRE, and EGLE). And prior to 2005, under a different program name, the volunteer lake monitoring part of MiCorps stretches back since 1974. That means that for 45 years, volunteers have been tracking the health of Michigan lakes, and for about 20 years, volunteers have been tracking the health of Michigan streams. Unfortunately, lack of funding for the program has the potential to end this terrific legacy of data and people. The threat is imminent.
The water quality collected over this time span is of high value, and has guided a huge number of management actions designed to reduce nutrient pollution and non-point source pollution and stop invasive species. The people side of the equation, though, is much harder to quantify. Since 1972, this volunteer monitoring program under its various appellations has taught and enabled people to become citizen scientists and community leaders. You know that person on your lake who is always on the water with strange equipment, writing newsletter articles urging everyone to stop fertilizing their lawns, and presenting graphs and charts at your annual lake association meeting? Chances are they have been taught the basics of lake science by the scientists from MiCorps. The leadership at MiCorps has watched these volunteers start as enthusiastic yet largely ignorant individuals and develop into champions who find positions on planning commissions and organize special assessment districts. You know that local watershed group that organizes aquatic insect surveys, teaches residents about the impact of development on stream water quality, and teaches your children during field trips to the river? Chances are they have received funding from the MiCorps stream granting program to make all of that happen. Over 40 groups have received grants since 2005 to help them build and operate these programs.
I have been part of MiCorps for over 10 years now, and I have always been impressed by the tenacity and intelligence of the volunteers who monitor their lakes and streams. These are great people, performing a noble task, which is to report on the water quality of our aquatic systems so that State government, local government, and landowners can make better management decisions. The end goal for all of these people is to keep our aquatic systems healthy for our children and grandchildren. It is not the time to stop this job! Threats on water quality are more prevalent now than any time since the Clean Water Act was written. We need to stay vigilant, we need to keep training and inspiring new community leaders, and we need to continue this program for years to come.
Please contact your State legislators and let them know that you think it is important that MiCorps continues, and that funding must be provided to EGLE to continue these operations. Without legislative intervention in the budgeting process, the program will come to an end in October 2019.