A watershed is a large area of land, shaped somewhat like a bowl that channels rain and snowmelt toward its lower points and into a river, river system or other body of water. Whether you realize it or not, we all live in a watershed. Oakland University and the surrounding area are located within the Clinton River Watershed.
The Clinton River Watershed (CRW) covers 760 square miles of southeast Michigan. It includes more than 1,000 miles of streams and flows 80 miles from its headwaters to Lake St. Clair. The area covered includes most of Macomb County, a large part of Oakland County and smaller areas of Lapeer and St. Clair counties. Currently, the Clinton River is listed as an "Area of Concern" by the EPA.
Areas of Concern are defined as geographic areas that fail to meet the general or specific objectives of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA). This failure has caused or is likely to cause impairment of beneficial use of the area's ability to support aquatic life. In 1987, the United States and Canada renewed their commitment to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. Amongst other objectives, the agreement identified 43 areas of Concern, one of which is the Clinton River Watershed. As it stands now, the CRW is experiencing impairment in 8 of 14 total beneficial use designations. This means that the CRW is experiencing:
- Restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption
- Undesirable algae growth
- Degradation of fish and wildlife populations
- Beach closings
- Degradation of aesthetics
- Degradation of benthos (bottom sediment)
- Restriction on dredging activities
- Loss of fish and wildlife habitat
After years of study, it has been determined that storm water is the single greatest source of contamination in the Clinton River.
Storm water pollution comes from many different sources including:
- Fertilizer and pesticides
- Oil and fluid from cars, trucks motercyles and ATVs
- Pet waste
- Illegal disposal chemicals and other substances down storm drains
Storm water touches everyone so it is important that we all work together to prevent contamination of storm water runoff.
How much do you know about watersheds? Take the Watershed Quiz.
Storm water management is not just a practical concern at Oakland University but also a regulatory one as OU is subject to federal Phase II Storm Water Regulations. Storm water runoff from urban areas contributes more pollutants to our surface waters than any other source. Recognizing this fact, the EPA requires public facilities owning separate storm sewer systems in urban areas to manage their storm water discharges.
Under these rules, the EPA requires public facilities like OU to develop, implement and enforce storm water management programs designed to reduce the discharge of pollutants to the Maximum Extent Practical (MEP). To achieve these goals, the EPA is requiring each public entity to:
- Insure that storm water only is being discharged to storm sewers (no sewage, chemicals, sediment, etc.). This is covered in an Illicit Discharge Elimination Plan (IDEP).
- Educate residents and visitors about storm water concerns by utilizing a Public Education Plan (PEP).
- Involve the residents and visitors in the development and implementation of the management program. Public Participation Program (PPP).
- Control storm water runoff from construction sites with an emphasis on erosion and sediment control. Construction Runoff Control Plan (CRCP).
- Utilize Best Management Practices to mitigate storm water flows from developed and developing areas. Post Construction Management Plan (PCMP).
- Practice good housekeeping and pollution prevention. Pollution Prevention and Good Housekeeping Plan (PPGHP).
Why prevent storm water pollution?
- To maintain and improve the health of our water supply - Once a chemical makes its way into the watershed, it may eventually become part of our water supply.
- To practice and encourage environmental protection - Any water entering the storm drains on OU's campus goes untreated directly to the surface waters of Galloway Creek, Clinton River and then to Lake St. Clair. The ecosystem of these waters can easily be damaged from storm water runoff.
- To Maintain Compliance - Oakland University is regulated under Phase II (40 CFR Parts 9,122,123 and 124) of the EPA's Storm Water Regulations.
The task of protecting our storm water on campus is a collaborative effort that encompasses the entire campus community. The following are a few examples of the actions that have been taken.
- Trees and native vegetation control erosion help to absorb storm water runoff. From 2004 through 2007, 279 trees were planted on campus.
- Native prairie also helps to control erosion while providing habitat for indigenous species of insects and animals. In 2002, OU applied compost soil amendments and planted native prairie on 2 acres of campus.
Soil Eosion/Runoff Control:
- Aerating and slit-seeding equipment - When the ground becomes compacted it is difficult for plants to spread their roots, which helps prevent soil erosion. In addition, compaction makes it difficult for rain water to soak into the soil, thereby increasing the amount of runoff that makes it into the storm sewer system. In order to combat erosion and runoff, OU's Grounds Maintenance Plan now includes regular use of aerating and slit-seeding equipment. Aerating machines punch holes into lawn areas to allow more air, water and fertilizer to reach the roots. This allows rainwater to infiltrate the soil and prevent it from reaching the storm sewer. Slit-seeding is used to plant new grass where the soil is bare and susceptible to erosion.
- Increasing mower height improves root depth thereby preventing erosion and improving infiltration. Mowing height was raised from 2 inches to 3 inches.
- Increasing mowing frequency prevents runoff of grass clippings, and several areas of the campus are no longer mowed at all.
- Use of low phosphorus fertilizers - Phosphorous is a nutrient in many fertilizers and is essential to plant growth. However, too much phosphorus in surface waters can cause algae blooms, lowered oxygen levels, decreased diversity and habitat destruction.
- Limited application of fertilizers - Applications are limited based on the results of soil testing. Fertilizer applications are limited around Bear Lake and other areas near open water.
- Control excess nutrients and bacteria from animal waste - Resident geese and other waterfowl can contribute excess nutrients and bacteria to our waterways. Border collies are utilized as a non-lethal means to control these populations on campus.