Tag: trout

With Michigan’s Trout Opener on Tap, An Angler Reflects on Coalition-Building to Protect Coldwater

The Crown Jewel

Saturday is the opening day of the trout fishing season, a high holy holiday to those of us who love to cast a fly in Michigan’s coldwater rivers and streams. I’ll be knee deep in the Holy Waters section of the Au Sable River by 10 a.m. There’s nothing else like it.

These thoughts cause me to look back and ask, “What did it take to reclaim this river, the Crown jewel of Michigan’s trout streams, and what does it take to protect what we have achieved?” The answer is a coalition of conservation and environmental interests, setting aside their competing concerns, and working over the years to achieve what we have now: the number one wild trout fishing destination east of the Mississippi.

And that’s my point: by working closely together, the “hook-and-bullet crowd” and the “tree huggers” can’t be beat on issues that affect our natural resources and environment, especially when it comes to water. If we are divided, we are weaker because of it.

Trout depend on good habitat, a healthy population of aquatic insects, and cold, clear water. The Au Sable depends on abundant wetlands and groundwater to feed the stream with the most stable, cold, and clean water flows in the world. It is unique.

The Grayling Fish Farm

But the river seems to have had a bullseye on it for years. We have dealt with fishing regulations, multiple and conflicting recreational uses, oil and gas drilling (including fracking), water withdrawals, mineral leases, water pollution (including PFAS), land use issues, and a recent invasion of agricultural interests in the form of a flow-through aquaculture facility in Grayling, just upstream from the Holy Waters.

The Grayling Fish Farm fight is a case in point. Crawford County, which owns the old Grayling fish hatchery, leased it to a commercial fish farming operation in return for a promise that the operator would keep the hatchery open during the summer as a tourist attraction. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources illegally signed off on the deal. The Department of Environmental Quality (now Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, or EGLE) granted a pollution discharge permit. The state Department of Agriculture and Rural Development was a big booster, and facilitated the project.

The result: a commercial fish farm which would pollute the river with phosphorus from fish feces and uneaten feed, spread disease to the wild fish, and possibly dilute their gene stock. Supporters included the Farm Bureau, MSU Extension Service, Michigan Sea Grant, former Gov. Snyder’s office, and several powerful legislators.

The Threat Is Now Gone. How?

The Anglers of the Au Sable, along with the Sierra Club, contested the permit and went to court. Experts in the areas of water quality, environmental engineering, fisheries, stream ecology, and recreational economics reviewed the permit. In the legislature, conservation and environmental groups united in their opposition to the expansion of aquaculture into the Great Lakes. These included FLOW, Anglers of the Au Sable, Michigan League of Conversation Voters, Trout Unlimited, Michigan Environmental Council, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, National Wildlife Federation, Michigan Steelhead and Salmon Fishermen’s Association, and others.

We won. The fish farm is gone. We derailed attempts to expand and deregulate aquaculture in Michigan. By operating in this fashion, we had the data and information we needed, and access to both Democrats and Republicans who could make a difference. When conservation and environmental groups are on the same page, we can’t be beat.


Tom Baird, who serves on FLOW’s board of directors, is past president of the Anglers of the Au Sable and chair of the group’s legal and governmental relations committees. Reach him at tbairdo@aol.com.

Read here about FLOW’s efforts to challenge aquaculture proposals in the public waters of the Great Lakes and its tributaries.


Where Did the Water Go?

Jim Maturen of Reed City is a lifelong conservationist who looked personally into the
concern that Nestle’s water withdrawals are affecting critical and sensitive trout streams.
He did it the old-fashioned way – he went out in the streams. We asked him for his
observations.


The controversy over Nestlé’s extraction of water in Osceola County has been fought in meeting rooms and offices. Is that why you went out in the field?

Yes. As a trout fisherman for 60 years and in law enforcement for 31 years, I decided to discover the facts.

Two trout streams begin from the spring that Nestlé has tapped for its water pumping. One is Chippewa Creek and the other is Twin Creek. It came to my attention that landowners on Chippewa Creek had dated photographs of a full flowing creek and then another of low water and mud flats after Nestlé began its operation. On July 17, John McLane and I began our research in the field. John is a registered surveyor who knows the area very well.

 

What did you find?

What I expected to find were full, fast running streams. What I found were still-flowing but extremely shallow streams. We were there to determine if there is sufficient temperature to support trout. As we worked downstream from the headwaters temperatures in the two streams varied from a low of 56° to a high of 65°, which is sufficient to retain trout.

 

What did you use as a baseline?

The fisheries division of the Michigan DNR conducted a research study on whirling disease in trout in both streams in July 2000. They started on Chippewa Creek 300 feet downstream from 90th Ave. in Osceola Township and went back to the culvert using shocking equipment to gather trout specimens. On July 31, John and I began stopping at sites in the DNR study to see if we could water depth sufficient to support trout. Our first stop was at Chippewa Creek at 90th Avenue, where the DNR study was conducted in 2000.

As I walked downstream from the culvert, the water was ankle deep. There was a lot of woody material in the creek, but no holes were found and no trout found. This is the exact spot where the DNR in 2000 found an abundant amount of trout, but no longer. Trout cannot survive in such shallow water.

 

That’s a big change.

Next stop was on Twin Creek at South Oak Street in Evart. This is the same area where the DNR collected 20 trout. We had difficulty accessing the same location but checked the cover just downstream. There were only about eight inches of water downstream.

Everywhere we checked, water was low. But we found Nestlé’s monitoring pipe and an additional measuring device downstream from several culverts – typically the deepest part of a stream. Was Nestle trying to distort the situation in the creeks, making the maximum depth appear to be average?

 

What’s your overall conclusion?

We spent a great deal of time examining the two creeks. It’s apparent that Nestlé’s operation is affecting the traditional flow of water to these creeks. By doing so, they have destroyed the fishery. How can Nestlé be allowed to take more water? They should be limited to 150 gallons per minute. If the streams don’t recover, then Nestlé’s operations must be terminated. I have brought these facts to the attention of the state Department of Environmental Quality. I hope they will give them the weight they deserve.

 

Any final thoughts?

Facts must be the basis of any decision making on Nestlé’s proposal to extract more water. Out in the real world where government decisions have their impact, Nestlé is already in the process of ruining sensitive and vital natural resources. They should not be allowed to do more damage.

 


Jim Maturen served with the Michigan State Police from 1957 until 1989, retiring as a
sergeant.  He served on the Osceola County Board of Commissioners from 1983 until
2002. He co-founded the first local chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation in
Michigan in 1983 and co-founded the Michigan Wild Turkey Hunters Association in
1996.