Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council
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Watershed Management


What Is a Watershed?

A watershed is the area of the land's surface that drains to a particular water body. Boundaries are generally based on high elevations. For instance, the continental divide is North America's most famous watershed boundary. On the east side of the continental divide, the rivers and other water bodies all drain to the Atlantic Ocean. On the west side of the continental divide, all of the waters drain to the Pacific Ocean.

Click on a link below to learn more about a specific watershed.

Watershed Size

Watersheds may also be characterized by their size. Large watersheds may encompass thousands of square miles; small watersheds may include only several square miles. The Lake Michigan Watershed, a large watershed, includes 45,598 square miles. This gives a watershed-to-water surface area ratio of about 2:1, which is relatively low. Lake Michigan's water originates from precipitation falling throughout its watershed.

Watershed Features

The features of a watershed influence the characteristics of its receiving water body. These features include things like:

  • Soils
  • Vegetation
  • Climate
  • Topography
  • Geology
  • Human Land Use

Because each watershed has different conditions, each lake and stream is unique. For instance, because of the limestone which is prevalent throughout much of the Lake Michigan basin, the water has high levels of calcium and magnesium (termed hardness), and carbonates (which create alkaline conditions), and as such, is well buffered against acid precipitation.

Water Quality and Pollution

The water quality of a lake is a reflection of the activities surrounding it within its watershed.

There are two major types of pollution: point source and nonpoint source.

Point source pollution comes from an easily identifiable source, such as a discharge pipe from a factory.

Nonpoint source pollution is pollution which comes from more diverse and diffuse sources that are not usually so obvious. Examples include soils that are eroded as a result of human activities, or substances which have been applied to land, such as fertilizers. Nonpoint source pollution reaches surface water primarily through runoff from rainfall or melting snow that picks up contaminants from the land. It can also include subsurface drainage such as leachate from septic systems, and airborne pollutants such as emissions from cars and power plants that produce acid rain.

Want to learn how you can protect water quality?

Become a Volunteer Water Quality Monitor.

Click here learn about Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council's Volunteer Lake Monitoring.

Click here to learn about the Watershed Council's Volunteer Stream Monitoring.

Click here to learn about how you can protect water quality in your watershed.

What is a Watershed Management Plan?

A watershed management plan identifies problems and threats to water resources and develops a framework to address these issues within a specific watershed. It is useful as both a process and a tool. The process alone is valuable.

The Watershed Council has been a key party involved with the development of watershed management plans for all major watersheds as well as several sub-watersheds in our service area. Most of these plans are now available for viewing or download via the following links:

NOTE: Because some of the plans are quite large, we recommend saving the file to your computer before viewing.

If you would like to learn more about Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council's efforts to protect waters in our four-county service area please Contact Us.

Watershed Stewardship Tips

Some tips on things everybody can do to help reduce pollution and keep our waters healthy and clean.

  • Avoid or minimize the use of pesticides whenever possible.
  • Carefully use household hazardous materials such as drain cleaner, paints, varnish, and motor oil. Don't dispose of these substances down the drain. Save these types of waste for a household hazardous waste collection.
  • When power boating or using a personal watercraft, obey no-wake zones and avoid shallow areas to avoid disturbing vegetation, wildlife, or bottom sediments.
  • Please don't feed the waterfowl, they play a role in the spread of swimmer's itch. Feeding waterfowl also contributes extra nutrients to a lake or river.
  • Divert rain gutters to unpaved areas on your property where water can soak into the ground
Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council • 426 Bay Street, Petoskey, MI 49770
PH: (231) 347-1181 • Fax: (231) 347-5928 • www.watershedcouncil.org
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