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Michigan tribal representatives join EGLE on Kalamazoo River paddle survey
September 24, 2021
As part of Michigan Indian Day, MI Environment talks with Eric Kerney, senior environmental specialist with Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, about his participation in a paddle survey on the Kalamazoo River with staff from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE).
Why did tribes participate in a float on the Kalamazoo River downstream of the Morrow Dam?
Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi (NHBP) environmental staff and leadership have been concerned about impacts to the Kalamazoo River after the Morrow Pond Dam was drawn down in late 2019. The drawdown released large amounts of impounded sediments into the river downstream, covering the benthic habitats for miles in the Kalamazoo River. The bottom habitats are essential components for all parts of the river ecosystem, including macro-invertebrates, fish, and the wild rice that we call Mnomen. There were numerous complaints from those who fish and recreate on the river, and the Kalamazoo River Watershed Council and State of Michigan were receiving this negative feedback from the public.
How many tribal representatives were part of the paddle survey?
Two staff from NHBP Environmental and one staff person from the Gun Lake Tribe Historic Preservation Office(THPO) attended the survey.
While we were able to evaluate and survey environmental impacts, we were not able to review the potential cultural implications of the sediment releases. We understand that the impacted area of the river is of historic and Tribal significance, with a known crossing point and Tribal villages occurring near the Michigan Avenue bridge over the Kalamazoo River. These areas have also all been heavily impacted by industrialization and PCB contamination dumped from papermills along the river.
What were you looking for? Did you find anything of cultural significance?
Primarily we were assisting EGLE staff in locating and collecting GPS data for exposed sediment deposits in and along the river. This was accomplished, as large sediment piles were abundant, particularly near the Mayor's Riverfront Park area. We also found logs with several map turtles basking, rocky riffle areas, an osprey, and piles of trash along the riverbanks. I also realized that the large sediment deposits, which in addition to impacting habitats are also unsightly and may have an unpleasant aroma, are located within view of the temporary location of the Kalamazoo Farmers Market in 2021.
Was this the first float of its kind with tribal representation?
While this was the first time recently we have gone together with EGLE staff, we have been collaborating for years regarding water quality in the Kalamazoo and St. Joseph River Basins. NHBP has been highly engaged as a Trustee in the Kalamazoo River Oil Spill Restoration (NRDA), which begins immediately upstream of the Morrow Pond Dam and continues upstream to Marshall. NHBP has been monitoring sediment turbidity in the Kalamazoo River in response to the release, and created a monitoring dashboard to highlights the results of sampling in 2020.
We have also conducted a similar float survey of the Morrow Pond with staff from the Pokagon Tribe.
While the Pond has been raised to its previous levels, it was fascinating to see the habitats, islands, and braided river channels re-emerge when the dam was drawn down in 2019 and 2020. While it changed the prospects for wild rice locations in the pond itself, many long dormant native plants began to return in and along the wetlands, and birds and other animals took to the restored habitats quickly.
To see spots on the paddle survey, check out the Tribe's story map.
Photo caption: Eric Kerney and Robert Williams, both of the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, and Derek Haroldson of EGLE on a Kalamazoo River paddle survey. Credit: NHBP