Map of Huron River Watershed with Upper Huron in green.
Map of Huron River Watershed with Upper Huron in green.

What is the Upper Huron?

The portion of the Huron River Watershed known as the “Upper Huron” is a diverse 545 square mile area that includes the headwaters of the Huron River and several tributaries that feed into the Huron upstream of Portage Lake in Washtenaw County. Comprised of parts of four counties (Oakland, Livingston, Jackson, and Washtenaw) and thirty local governments, the Upper Huron constitutes the upper 60% of the Huron River Watershed.

The Upper Huron is home to numerous threatened and endangered species and habitats, and portions of the Upper Huron have been deemed globally significant by The Nature Conservancy. In addition, several miles of the Huron River and Davis Creek in the Upper Huron have been designated as “Country Scenic Rivers” by the Department of Natural Resources. Protection of such ecologically significant areas is vital to the health of the entire Huron River.

The Upper Huron is a mixture of urbanized areas and rural/agricultural lands, many of which are experiencing some of the state’s most intense development pressures from a growing economy and urban sprawl. While the overall health of the Upper Huron is fairly good, this once pristine area is showing signs of degradation. The natural ecosystem and the water we rely on for drinking, swimming, fishing, and boating is threatened by the cumulative impacts of past and present urbanization in the form of land runoff, poorly maintained septic systems, increased sewage discharge, alterations in water flow, and development in wetlands and floodplain woodlands.

What we doing in the Upper Huron

HRWC strives to restore and protect the water quality and ecological integrity of the Upper Huron, and thus, realize the recreational and economic benefits of a healthy watershed. Through coordinated watershed planning and implementation, the Upper Huron program strives to organize and involve local government and its citizens in reducing non-point sources of pollution. Locally coordinated watershed planning is intended to provide an action plan for attaining federal and state water quality standards through resource protection and pollution prevention.
Currently, the state has identified 14 impaired waterbodies in the Upper Huron that do not meet state water quality standards. For these waters, a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) must be established by the MDEQ for the pollutant of concern. A TMDL is defined as the maximum amount of a pollutant that a water body can accept without exceeding state water quality standards. More information about the TMDLs for these waterbodies can be found on the HRWC Impaired Waterbodies webpage.

Ten waterbodies in the Upper Huron are impaired due to either poor macroinvertebrate communities, low levels of dissolved oxygen, or excessive levels of Mercury or PCBs. The MDEQ has yet to establish TMDL goals for these waterbodies. Four other TMDLs, all related to excessive non-point source phosphorus pollution, have been established for Kent Lake in Oakland County and Brighton, Ore, and Strawberry Lakes in Livingston County. Currently, the primary focus of the Upper Huron Initiative is on reducing sources of non-point source phosphorus pollution to meet these four TMDLs. More information about non-point source phosphorus pollution can be found on the HRWC Non-Point Source Pollution webpage.

The Kent Lake TMDL calls for a 16% reduction (about 900 lbs per year) of phosphorus from non-point sources to meet the goal of an in-lake phosphorus concentration of .03 mg/L. The Brighton Lake TMDL calls for a 10% reduction (about 100 lbs per year) of phosphorus from non-point sources to meet the goal of an in-lake concentration of .03 mg/L. The TMDL for Ore Lake does not call for a reduction phosphorus loads, but places limits on additional point source inputs and keeps nonpoint source contributions near current levels, even as development increases, to maintain an in-lake concentration of .025 mg/L. The TMDL for Strawberry Lake calls for a 15% reduction (1,878 lbs/year) of non-point source phosphorus to meet the goal of an in-lake phosphorus concentration of .025 mg/L.

In order to meet these phosphorus TMDLs and improve overall water quality, the UHI recommends and employs a broad range of tools. Managerial best management practices (BMPs) include institutional, educational, or regulatory measures of pollution prevention. Managerial BMPs focus on modifying behaviors and practices through a wide variety of activities such as adopting new policies and ordinances regarding land use planning, providing watershed public information and education to residents, and conducting studies and inventories (such as the Adopt-A-Stream program).

What successes have we had in the Upper Huron?

The successes in the Upper Huron are due, in large part, to the partnerships with county and local governments and key stakeholders that have been created through the development and implementation of watershed management plans. HRWC has facilitated the development of watershed management plans for meeting the phosphorus TMDLs for Kent Lake in Oakland County and for Brighton Lake in Livingston County and has recently completed a watershed management plan for the Huron Chain of Lakes subwatershed in Livingston County for compliance with federal Phase II stormwater regulations. More information about the Phase II stormwater regulations can be found on the HRWC Non-point Source Pollution webpage.

Implementation of these watershed plans has resulted in increasing public awareness of watershed issues through presentations with local stakeholder groups such as lake and homeowner associations, facilitation of public meetings, sponsoring workshops for riparian homeowners, and educational mass mailings and media advertising.

HRWC has worked with several local governments to conduct an inventory of their codes and ordinances and provide recommendations and technical assistance for making improvements that will benefit the watershed. Over the past few years, Upper Huron communities have adopted wetlands protection ordinances, fertilizer ordinances, natural feature protection ordinances, and have raised the level of water quality protection in their standards and codes. HRWC continues to encourage and offer technical support for innovative policy and ordinance changes that will help communities make responsible decisions regarding growth, land use, and protection of their water resources.

HRWC is also overseeing the development of two stormwater demonstration projects in Wixom that will replace conventional and poorly designed stormwater detention basins with innovative designs to reduce loads of phosphorus and other pollutants to the Huron River.

Contact us

Direct inquiries about the Upper Huron program to Ric Lawson at (734)769-5123 x609, or email: rlawson@hrwc.org.