Reducing Bacteria in Honey Creek

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Portions of the middle Huron River watershed, including Honey Creek, fail to meet minimum water quality standards or provide designated uses. Honey Creek is listed as impaired by the state due to elevated bacteria levels (E. coli). A watershed management plan identified some “critical areas” of the watershed had much higher bacteria concentrations than others.

To address Honey Creek’s bacterial contamination, which flows to the Huron River, HRWC is reaching out to residents to encourage them to take specific actions to address the pollution. In addition, we will monitor the creek after our outreach efforts to see where gains are being made.

What we are doing in the Honey Creek area:

  1. Identify and encourage the elimination of human sources. Canine detection is being used to identify failing septic systems followed by homeowner outreach.
  2. Educate residents about pathogen problems and how they can help. Outreach materials will be delivered primarily within “critical areas.” We will also meet with farmers to discuss ways they reduce contamination from their practices.
  3. Reduce pet waste entering storm systems. A combination of regulation, education and infrastructure will be used to reduce pet waste inputs to Honey Creek.
  4. Evaluate the success of these efforts to guide future investments. Year three will involve extensive monitoring and analysis to gage progress.


This project is unique because it is likely that together, we can remove human-sourced pathogens and significantly reduce overall bacteria levels in Honey Creek. Given the level of contamination in the creek, it is quite possible that the pathogen impairment could be completely removed and the creek returned to full beneficial use status. We hope this project will serve as a model for reducing bacteria levels in similar watersheds around the state.

FUNDED BY: Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Non Point Source Pollution Program
TIMELINE: November, 2016 – October, 2019

About the 2011-2013 Honey Creek Watershed Plan

This page houses information about the completed project to plan for the elimination of bacteria contamination in Honey Creek. This page outlines the project and how it progressed to completion. General information about bacteria contamination of surface water can be found on a separate page. A general report on Honey Creek history and conditions is also available on a separate page.

Honey Creek Watershed Management Plan
Honey Creek Bacterial Study

A kick-off meeting was held with the Advisory Committee on December 1, remedy 2011. The first Stakeholder Committee was held on March 29, 2012. Several Advisory Committee meetings were held through the course of the project.
A final Stakeholder Meeting to review the draft Watershed Management Plan was held on October 1, 2013.

The following presentation was developed for the project kick-off meeting and covers major project elements. A special thank you to Molly Rippke, Michigan DEQ for much of the background content.
Honey Creek Kickoff Presentation (5 mb)

In 2009, the DEQ (then DNRE) developed a pollution limit policy (called a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL)) for Honey Creek due to body contact impairments as a result of elevated bacteria levels. Specifically, high E. coli counts were recorded at a sampling location near the Honey Creek outflow. Also, HRWC has been monitoring E. coli levels in the creek since 2006. Under HRWC’s program, the mean E. coli count was 405 per 100 ml, with a maximum count of 3000 per 100 ml (June, 2009) and a median of 305 per 100 ml – all above the single event water quality standard of 300 E. coli per 100 ml for total body contact (TBC).
DNRE collected additional E. coli data in 2007 at four sites along Honey Creek to develop the TMDL. All sites exceeded the TBC standards, and many events exceeded the partial body contact standard. The highest counts were found at the most upstream location, where the 30-day geometric mean exceeded 1,000 E. coli per 100 ml (the PBC standard) for the entire sampling period (dry and wet weather). E. coli counts were progressively lower at each downstream location for most sampling events.
These results suggest that a source exists near or upstream of sampling station 1. One sample from station 1 was analyzed for human biomarkers and none were found, suggesting animal sources. Potential sources in the area of station 1 identified in the TMDL include livestock manure, horse pastures, pet waste and urban/suburban wildlife. One high-density housing development, Scio Farms, was identified with high pet ownership and storm water runoff that enters Honey Creek upstream of station 1.

The overall project goal is to collect information and develop a Watershed Management Plan that will foster activities that will reduce the quantity of bacteria entering Honey Creek and eventually meet water quality standards. Specific objectives are to:
Conduct E. coli monitoring, including Bacterial Source Tracking (BST), to narrow the identification of sources.
Develop a watershed management plan (WMP) to address the pathogen and other identified impairments.
Involve relevant residents in the plan-development and inform them about their roles and responsibilities through a workshop and educational materials.

Oct 2011 – Apr 2012
Collect data and background information to assess overall watershed impairments, threats, causes and potential sources, and determine monitoring sites.
Meet with local stakeholders to get early input.
Monitoring data, along with results from BST, will determine the most likely sources of E. coli contamination.
May 2012 – Dec 2012
Conduct E. coli monitoring, including BST, statistical analysis, and follow-up monitoring. Report results in December 2012.
Conduct other field investigations to collect information on land uses and potential sources.
Dec 2012 – August 2013
Evaluate results and revise plan to fill in data and knowledge gaps.
Collect additional data and summarize results.
Jan 2013 – March 2014
Complete draft WMP (final WMP produced in March 2014).
Conduct a public stakeholders meeting to gather feedback and provide guidance about individual actions to address bacteria and other impairment sources.
These activities resulted in a planning project that cost-effectively targets actions that have the greatest likelihood of successfully reducing or eliminating identified impairments.
Management Plan, Monitoring Plan, Data and Results

The Honey Creek Watershed Management Plan (WMP) was completed in Spring 2014, reviewed by MDEQ and revised, and then approved by MDEQ and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in September 2014. The WMP references appendices that were too large to post. Contact Ric Lawson to request any or all appendices.
A monitoring plan was developed and implemented to collect water quality data from different stream sections. Details and results can be viewed on the Honey Creek Study webpage.

This project was funded through a Nonpoint Source grant from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, with match funding and additional contributions provided by the following partners.
Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner
Scio Township
Middle Huron Initiative (includes 17 signatory communities or agencies to the TMDL cooperative agreement)
Middle Huron River Watershed Stormwater Advisory Group (includes 7 member municipalities and agencies)