Troubled Bay Waters

As many of you will already know, there was an unprecedented action taken by the Michigan DNR to help preserve the already stressed salmon as they fought to make their way upstream for annual spawning in near record low waters due to our drought status and seriously low water table. This ban lasts for a period of 5 years and basically prevents fishing from the Elberta bridge to Northstar (Elberta) and across to Eastshore Marina (Frankfort).

Benzie County is one of 83 counties identified by the USDA, as meeting drought conditions. Lake Michigan levels in early fall were reported to be around 577.5 feet, it was a bit lower then than late last winter and many expect the lake levels to fall anywhere from 6 inches to 1 foot further this winter. The current record low for Lake Michigan was in March of 1964 and was around 576 feet. It is projected we will surpass this recorded low this winter.

So, what does this mean…? Well, when you get a bunch of fish dying in the Bay or struggling to find a channel deep enough to get upriver THAT tends to get folks attention, especially the fishing community and those that depend upon that economic-base for their livelihood. People started lots of conversations with the dire need for dredging.

This led to a well-packed meeting in October with State Rep. Ray Franz, several DNR representatives, local officials and many concerned citizens. First topic was a stipulation via Mr. Franz for creating a more immediate process for shutting down the fishing which now takes about 20 days of legal postings. Then the discussion of dredging and all of the unused Federal funding that was available for just this scenario began in earnest with the vast funds seemingly held captive by the Army Corps. Wiser, more experienced voices such as Luedtke Engineering Company’s, President, Kurt Luedtke, disavowed the crowd of thinking Federal dollars would be made available for Betsie Bay. Dredging is a hugely expensive endeavor that requires a great deal of planning and permitting. Dredging basically involves removing accumulated sediments in waterways to maintain depth, improve water quality or to remove other contaminants. Storage and proper disposal of these sediments must be addressed and can become a challenge. In the Great Lakes, dredging may be required due to wind and wave action, which deposits sandy sediments in harbor mouths. In other instances, dredging is conducted in response to soil erosion resulting from agriculture and development, in other words…human impact.

So, where does this leave us…? In speaking both with County Commissioner, Don Tanner, a well-known local fishing guide, and Kurt Luedtke can show us two lines of pretty clear direction…

· First, some potential short-term benefits of just letting nature work it’s course and recognizing there will always be this kind of fluctuation on any watershed but perhaps global climate change (Yup, you heard it here!) concerns are clearly showing watersheds are not ‘bouncing back’ as quickly as they have in the past.

· Second, constantly reminding ourselves this watershed, as all, are complex systems that encompass much more than just the water levels and struggling fish. We know clearly that invasive species such as phragmites affect the hydrology of the watershed and may also affect water levels contributing to the huge loss of native wetland plant species. We also know how much land use can effect watersheds with things such as nonpoint source pollution, which may derive from many upstream sources and be difficult to regulate or even known existing point source pollution that dumps directly into the water. We also know we can no longer be satisfied with efforts that just work on eradicating invasives or correcting pollution sources, we absolutely must make a commitment to RESTORATION of the Bay.

This is where the Friends of Betsie Bay get to have a ‘Pat ourselves on the Back’ moment! We have been living up to our mission statement of being good stewards of the Bay by currently addressing, as best we can, the phragmites on the Bay AND we’ve managed for about 12 years to work diligently in a legal battle of a land use issue for the proposed Tobin development. This a HUGE accomplishment and deserving of our recognition…!

Thank you all for working together to be on the front lines of the long work we’ve done and the road ahead. If you’re interested in being a part of thinking with us, sharing your thoughts or getting a bit more involved, please email us:


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