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July 2019

Lack of Funding Threatens Highly Successful MiCorps Water Quality Monitoring Programs








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 peopleThe 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. 

Legislative Action on Restoring Full Funding to MiCorps Lake and Stream Water Quality Monitoring Programs a Critical Component of Preserving our Water Resources for Future Generations

by Bob Frye

MWAI, President

For readers of our e-newsletter that may not be entirely familiar with our organization, the Michigan Waterfront Alliance, Incorporated (MWAI) was formed in 1998 as an IRS 501(c)4 non-profit corporation whose mission and goals are primarily focused on protecting, preserving, and promoting the wise and sustainable use of Michigan’s vast treasure of extraordinary freshwater resources. MWAI is a membership-based organization that strives to accomplish our goals through active participation in our state’s legislative process (lobbying), by direct participation in certain court cases, especially those that may negatively affect riparian rights, in cases whose potential outcomes may have statewide legal ramifications, and/or by direct involvement with Michigan’s environment and natural resource management departments or agencies.

As President of Michigan Waterfront Alliance, one of the most important aspects of my job, while working closely with our Board of Directors, is to ensure that our organizations limited resources are utilized in a manner that will serve to maximize their potential to influence the establishment of state laws, policies, and priorities that ultimately act to help protect and preserve Michigan’s freshwater resources. In light of the fact that unpaid volunteers conduct our organizations day-to-day administrative operations, we are able to dedicate a large percentage of our membership derived income to accomplishing our water resource protection and preservation focused mission and goals. We would encourage you and your organization to become members of the Michigan Waterfront Alliance!

Representing one of the most important water resource protection and management issues to have arisen in Michigan over the course of the past few years – we have politely asked the readers of this e-newsletter to contact their respective state representatives and senators to encourage their support for the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) request for adequate funding to support the highly successful, nationally recognized partnership-based Michigan Clean Water Corps (MiCorps), and its key programs, the Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program, and the Volunteer Stream Monitoring Program. EGLE’s request for state legislature appropriated funding to support Michigan Clean Water Corps and its lake and stream water quality monitoring focused programs is driven by the fact that funds in the range of $250,000 to $300,000 that were made available on an annual basis to the Department from 2003 – 2016 to pay for MiCorps and its programs derived from the Clean Michigan Initiative, a 1998 voter approved $675 million environmental clean-up focused bond issue whose resources have now been depleted.

As many of our readers may be aware, EGLE senior leadership has been forced to suspend the Volunteer Stream Monitoring Program, one of MiCorps key components, due to lack of funding. In the absence of a dedicated funding source, EGLE managers have conducted the inland lakes focused MiCorps Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program over the past two years by internally shifting limited discretionary funds from other critical programs, or, as is the case for the 2019 program, with a one time “grant” for $150,000 made available to the agency by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

Michigan Waterfront Alliance and its diverse membership therefore wholeheartedly supports the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy request for a 2020 state budget appropriation of $377,500 that would allow the agency to fully restore and properly administer Michigan Clean Water Corps (MiCorps) well-run volunteer-based lakes and streams water quality monitoring programs. In light of the fact that our inland lakes, rivers, and streams are known to contribute somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 to $15 billion to Michigan’s economy, an annual legislative appropriation of $377, 500 (representing a tiny fraction of what our freshwater resources contribute annually to Michigan’s economy) that would allow EGLE senior leadership to fully fund and administer MiCorps programs represents a wise and timely investment in Michigan’s future.

In an era defined by widespread occurrences of aquatic invasive species, intensifying residential development within the ecologically sensitive nearshore areas of many of our inland lakes and streams, and lack of viable funding sources for lake and stream management, MiCorps, and its highly cost effective volunteer-based water quality monitoring programs represent an increasingly important component of our collective ability to help ensure the preservation of our vast legacy of high quality inland lakes and streams for future generations.

We sincerely hope that this detailed e-mail communication will serve to inspire you to phone and/or e-mail your respective state representative and senator to express your support for the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy’s request to the state legislature for a dedicated budget appropriation that would restore full funding to MiCorps and its highly cost effective programs. If you’ve already called or e-mailed on behalf of MiCorps, thank you for your support! We would encourage our readers to again call and/or e-mail their respective senators and representative – legislators judge the importance of a particular issue based on the number of calls and e-mails that they receive from constituents! Your phone calls and e-mails will help lay the ground work for our efforts on behalf of MiCorps that will intensify over the next few weeks as state representatives and senators return from summer break and resume their work on finalizing the 2020 state budget.

Our readers should know that MiCorps and its outstanding water quality monitoring programs will likely come to an unceremonious end on October 1st, 2019 without legislative action in the next few weeks. In a state where so much of our unique Pure Michigan culture, history, wealth, and a bright and successful future for our children is inextricably tied to our ability to successfully preserve our extraordinary legacy of freshwater resources, the very thought of losing these outstanding citizen volunteer-based water quality monitoring programs is untenable!!! We greatly appreciate your willingness to devote a bit of time over the next week or so in order to make an important contribution to our efforts to save MiCorps by calling or e-mailing your respective state legislators!