LGROW not OK with DEQ

July 14, 2012
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While Gov. Rick Snyder has stressed the need for local governments to find ways to collaborate, a state agency is threatening to break up an established local collaboration that has two dozen members.

“I look at this as a stunning example of the Metro Council and a shining example of collaboration,” said Brian Donovan, East Grand Rapids city manager.

Donovan is also chairman of the Lower Grand River Organization of Watersheds, also known as LGROW. The nonprofit organization was formed through the Grand Valley Metro Council to maintain the region’s water quality along the Grand River from Ionia County to Lake Michigan and in the areas that surround the Rogue, Thornapple and Flat rivers.

“Our whole goal is water quality, which is important to business and for recreation,” said Donovan.

To meet that goal, LGROW developed a watershed management plan through the GVSU Annis Water Resource Center that contains known best practices for ensuring water quality. Donovan said the plan is so detailed that it even recommends the best materials to use to build driveways.

“One of the most important things we’ve done is created a watershed management plan. It’s a very practical approach that looks at problems from the big picture,” said Donovan.

“The rivers really define this area,” said Tom Fehsenfeld, GVMC board member and local businessman.

Another important action LGROW encouraged was to get 24 units of government to adopt its plan and use it to manage stormwater runoff, which, if not properly handled, can dump pollutants into the region’s rivers, streams and creeks.

“We have 24 units all working for the same goal,” said John Weiss, GVMC executive director.

Even though the state Department of Environmental Quality approved LGROW’s plan, Donovan said the agency is now pushing the Legislature to make individual units of government solely responsible for having their own watershed permits instead of being part of a larger group that has one.

Should the DEQ gets its way, Donovan said the rivers wouldn’t be looked at in the same “big picture” manner but more like a series of 24 smaller snapshots, and that approach could lead to a variety of management plans, with some being better than others.

Donovan also said the DEQ’s effort could break up LGROW because the agency wants municipalities to go it alone. Donovan has made the governor’s office aware of the issue. “We are fighting with the DEQ. We’re really pushing hard on this,” he said.

“We’re going to the state and we’re going to fight. We need to look at the Grand River in the big picture. We really need to be strong,” Weiss said to GVMC board members.

While challenging the DEQ is LGROW’s top priority, Donovan said developing a business plan while increasing the organization’s communications ability is second on the list. GVMC members got LGROW started on that task by approving three contracts. Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber will develop the business and communications plan for $5,200. The Community Media Center of Grand Rapids will design and create a website for LGROW at a cost of $5,218. The third agreement is with the Center for Environmental Study in Grand Rapids for six different tasks that are priced separately with a not-to-exceed amount.

LGROW will use $78,000 in grants from the Wege, Frey and Grand Rapids Community foundations to pay for the work. Donovan said the Wege Foundation donated $60,000 to the effort, while Frey and GRCF each contributed $9,000.

The Grand River Watershed is the state’s largest. It stretches over 2,014 square miles and is divided into the lower and upper watersheds. LGROW covers 10 counties. Roughly 60 percent of the land within its boundary is devoted to agricultural use. Wetlands make up 6 percent of the lower watershed.

Besides stormwater management, the LGROW watershed plan preserves and restores cold-water fisheries, ensures public safety in recreational waters and provides direction for flood control.

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