An aerial image of Lake St. Clair between Michigan and Canada

Lake St. Clair is one of Southeast Michigan’s jewels that must be protected and restored. SEMCOG works to restore and protect Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River through implementation of the St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair Comprehensive Management Plan.

SEMCOG facilitates the Lake St. Clair/St. Clair River Protection and Restoration Partnership, which implements the plan. The partnership contains representatives of 37 organizations including local, state, regional, and federal government agencies, non-governmental organizations, business, universities, and associations.

A new Partnership Agreement (pdf, 504KB) is in the process of being signed by partnership members. New members are being sought for addition to the Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area and Partnership.  If your organization is interested in joining the Lake St. Clair/St. Clair River Protection and Restoration Partnership, please contact Bill Parkus for details at (313) 324-3351.

The partnership has developed the St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP) (pdf, 1.3MB). The SIP is a five year list of priority projects for protecting and restoring the Lake St. Clair Watershed. This list assists Congress and federal and state agencies in identifying funding priorities for Lake St. Clair.

The Lake St. Clair/St. Clair River Protection and Restoration Partnership has identified the following planning priorities that will assist in evaluating projects for protecting and restoring Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River:

Conserve and Restore Habitat

Improving the quality of Lake St. Clair and its watershed will require the presence of quality natural habitat for fish and wildlife. Protecting natural habitat creates opportunities for enhanced eco-tourism and recreational activities that generate employment opportunities as part of the new Blue Economy. Finally, the benefits of reduced pollutant loadings will be marginalized if there is insufficient quality habitat to support wildlife. The reduced land values and reverted properties are providing an opportunity for additional conservation.

These projects will focus on protecting and restoring high value habitat sites for improved recreational and eco-tourism opportunities, restoring fish and wildlife habitat in area streams and rivers, dam removal and restoration, and restoration of wetlands. Examples of current projects under this category include:

  • Invasive species removal
  • Harrison Township 155 acres wooded wetland remnant
  • Partridge Creek Commons Remnant Oak Opening
  • River Voss Fish and Wildlife Habitat Restoration Project
  • Meldrum Drain Fish and Wildlife Habitat Restoration and Conservation Project
  • Protection, restoration and redevelopment of Harsens Island Hunt Club property

Manage Stormwater Through Retrofits

Runoff from Southeast Michigan's existing impervious surfaces exceed 1 trillion gallons annually – delivering 3 million pounds of phosphorus and 500 million pounds of sediment to the region's waterways. The volume and water quality impacts include:

  • Reduced water quality
  • Less groundwater recharge
  • Increased flooding and property damage
  • Decreased recreational opportunities
  • Loss of fisheries and habitat

Much of the stormwater management activity is focused on reducing runoff from future development. But, future development will be limited due to the slow economy. Thus, the most benefit in reducing pollutant impacts from runoff would be realized from retrofitting existing land uses with green infrastructure. At this point there is little financial support from existing federal or state programs for green infrastructure retrofits.

Nutrients from rural sources such as runoff from farm fields contribute large pollutant loads to Southeast Michigan's waterways including the Lake St. Clair watershed.

Example projects:

  • Green infrastructure and low impact development projects
  • Green infrastructure in road right-of-ways
  • Native vegetation buffer projects in rural subwatersheds

Identify and Reduce Sources of Bacteria

Bacteria from the intestines of humans or animals (such as E coli) are a recognized public health concern that often result in beach closings or the issuance of a TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) for a water body (i.e. lake, river, creek, drain, etc.). Beach closings can lead to lost revenue for area businesses and missed opportunities for public use and public awareness of the natural resource value of the lake.

A TMDL for E coli brings increased federal or state regulation resulting in further local regulatory programming and expenses that will be borne by the communities that use the water body. Water bodies in the Lake St. Clair Watershed with TMDLs for pathogens include the Clinton River and its tributaries, Crapau Creek, Vandervenne Drain, Salt River, Memorial Beach, MetroBeach, St. Clair River, Marsac Creek, and Swartout Creek. There is a public expectation that beach closings and TMDLs will be reduced and the public's use of the Lake St. Clair resource improved through economic and eco-tourism activities.

Example projects:

  • IDEP projects
  • On site disposal system remediation projects
  • Wildlife control projects
  • Collaborate with conservation districts in rural watersheds to make improvements to confined feed operations, etc.

Use Technology to Protect and Restore Lake St. Clair

Technology – monitoring, modeling, and observing systems – provides a significant amount of information that can improve decision-making in protecting and restoring the St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair. Some of this technology is now being used in the watershed.

Monitoring that can detect a chemical hotspot or spill and provide concentration information that could trace the chemical back to its origin is an important technology for protecting public health. A significant amount of environmental monitoring goes on each year in Southeast Michigan's waterways including Lake St. Clair and the Clinton and St. Clair Rivers by county health departments, and drain and public works offices.

Modeling that generates a graphic representation of the body of water – along with an accurate simulation of flow speed and direction, wind speed and direction – and projects the path of a spill or hotspot plume and/or traces the plume back to its source would have significant water quality and public health benefits.

Observing systems that measure flow speed and direction, wind speed and direction, precipitation, water temperature, Ph, salinity, and turbidity contribute the information necessary to model an aquatic scenario or undertake numerous planning and engineering projects.

Example projects:

  • Hotspot assessment
  • Source water protection
  • Post project assessment
  • Comprehensive (trend identification)
  • Projecting beach closings due to pathogen bacteria
  • Emerging chemicals (pharmaceuticals, fire retardants, pesticides, chlorinated paraffins)
  • Identification of aquatic sites for habitat protection and restoration
  • Boating safety
  • Commercial navigation
  • Integrating HECWFS (Huron to Erie Connecting Waterways Forecasting System) with the Huron to Erie Real-time Drinking Water Protection Network

Enhance Public Use of Lake St. Clair Watershed

The Blue Economy will use the water resources and coastal assets of Southeast Michigan in economic opportunities to generate new commercial and employment opportunities. Business, local government, and other stakeholders are collaborating to position the region to take advantage of the Blue Economy. 

New recreation and ecotourism opportunities that generate interest of local residents and tourists in Lake St. Clair and its watershed will be part of this changing economic pattern.

This shift to a Blue Economy will be characterized by increased access to Lake St. Clair and its tributaries for recreational opportunities. A public that has access to, and uses, the resource will engage in its protection.

Example projects:

  • Water-based recreation and ecotourism opportunities in Lake St. Clair and its tributaries
  • Establishment of blueway corridors
  • Purchase land for public access

St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair Comprehensive Management Plan

In 1999, Congress authorized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop a comprehensive management plan for Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River. Congress provided appropriations for the management plan in Fiscal Years 2001 and 2002. The Army Corps of Engineers contracted with the Great Lakes Commission to prepare the management plan, which the Army Corps submitted to Congress and released to the public in April 2005.

Click here to read an Executive Summary (pdf, 231KB) that contains a listing of all plan recommendations. Or, click the links below to read the corresponding chapter within the plan.

Priority Projects to Protect and Restore the Lake St. Clair Watershed

Projects in the Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP) are priorities for implementing the St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair Comprehensive Management Plan. These projects address such issues as ecological restoration and protection, stormwater management, bacteria reduction, enhancement of recreational opportunities, etc. The Lake St. Clair project search tool can be used to search for priority projects in the Strategic Implementation Plan based on such variables as cost, project type, estimated project cost, Lake St. Clair plan priorities, community and watershed location. Project fact sheets are available for each project in the SIP.

Partner Recognition for Funding Awards

Several partners recently received Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) funding through the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Fisheries Program for two projects located within the Clinton River Watershed. SEMCOG congratulates the Office of the Macomb County Public Works Commissioner and the Huron Clinton Metropolitan Authority. NOAA released its 2014 Awards on Friday October 17, 2014.

St. Clair, MI ($648,000 awarded to the Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority): Black Creek Marsh Coastal Wetland Restoration Project

This project will reconnect the Black Creek Marsh with Clinton River, restoring marsh habitat and increasing the diversity and abundance of fish species and other wildlife. The project will also increase recreational opportunities within the Lake St. Clair Metropark.

Clinton and Harrison Townships, MI ($2,511,800 awarded to the Macomb County Public Works Office): Clinton River Spillway Restoration - Phase I Implementation Project

This project will restore four areas within the spillway corridor including replacing an existing concrete rubble shoreline with a living shoreline and addressing invasive species. This project builds off of a previously funded GLRI award that supported the engineering and design of the restoration project.

Managing Invasive Species around Lake St. Clair

Over the last five years, approximately 3,500 acres of land has been chemically managed for Phragmites – mainly in Anchor Bay and St. Clair Flats ‒ at a cost of approximately $1.4 million (in mainly federal cost share).

Federal funding for Phragmites control around Lake St. Clair ended in June 2014. SEMCOG is working with its partners to develop a more local invasive species management structure. Because of the highly invasive nature and long distances that invasives such as Phragmites can move in a year, watersheds and subwatersheds in close proximity can infest and re-infest each other. Thus, a process to establish a series of connected but independent Cooperative Invasive Species Management Areas (CISMAs) is envisioned to effectively manage the spread of invasive species such as Phragmites australis within this tri-county target area in the Lake St. Clair, Huron River, and Shiawassee River Watersheds. Once established, the CISMAs would function independently but would network, communicate, and work jointly on management issues that cross CISMA boundaries.  Partners in this endeavor are: Michigan Departments of Natural Resources and Environmental Quality, county agencies, local governments, Ducks Unlimited, Michigan Sea Grant, local water fowl organization, and SEMCOG.

This joint CISMA process would permit input from landowners, organizations, and government agencies from across these watersheds in identifying Cooperative Weed Management Area (CWMA) geographic boundaries, champions, and partners. The process would serve as a funding proposal to the Michigan DNR.

The Stewardship Network will provide assistance to the local, county, state government agencies, and organizations operating in the area in organizing CISMAs around geographic areas that make sense. The Stewardship Network provides operational support (technical assistance, website hosting, grant writing services, coordination, etc.) for numerous clusters that serve as CISMAs around the state. The Stewardship Network’s cluster management structure will be an option as a framework for establishing these CWMAs.

The process is now under way. Two CISMAs adjacent to one another have formed – the Lake St. Clair CISMA and the Oakland County CISMA. The Lake St. Clair CISMA has established its geographic boundary ‒ the entire Lake St. Clair Watershed in Southeast Michigan. Its Partnership Agreement is under development and will be signed by all members of the Partnership. The CISMA is being established within the structure of the Lake St. Clair/St. Clair River Protection and Restoration Partnership. A Steering Committee, advisory to the Partnership, has been established to carry out the work of the CISMA on behalf of the partnership. Responsibilities of the Steering Committee include the following:

  • Receive invasive species management projects directly from Lake St. Clair Stakeholders (e.g. governments, non government organizations, and property owners) and directly from the partnership;
  • Develop a yearly action plan of management activities and annual report;
  • Assist in the coordination and/or undertaking of the management actions identified in its invasive species management activities within the Lake St. Clair watershed; 
  • Provide expertise, assist project sponsors in identifying funding options and coordinate grant applications for the parties relative to areas within the CISMA; 
  • Develop public education, outreach and training activities;
  • Encourage cooperative relationships and active participation by all parties to this Partnership Agreement; and 
  • Actively seek volunteers, cooperators and alternate funding sources critical to the management success of the Lake St. Clair CISMA.

Spill Scenario simulations along the St. Clair River

According to a 2006 GAO report, 991 reports of spills along the St. Clair/Detroit River System were received by the NRC (National Response Center) between 1994 and 2004. In response to this high number of spills, a system of real-time monitoring equipment was installed in the water treatment plants from Port Huron down to Monroe funded through federal, state, and local means.

In 2009-2010, contaminant spill scenarios were simulated along the St. Clair River in a joint GLOS and NOAA-GLERL initiative (Anderson and Schwab) using the Huron-Erie Corridor Waterway Forecast System, a three-dimensional hydrodynamic model. There were three spill transects used along the St. Clair River -- at Sarnia, Marysville, and St. Clair. Each transect had five release locations equally spaced across the river. Two dye releases were made at each release location -- one surface (floating) and the other bottom (sinking) -- for a total of 30 spill scenarios. The simulations calculated spill characteristics data (pdf, 524KB) such as time of arrival at each of the eight downstream transects (for recording spill parameter data), or at water treatment plants through interpolation, location of plume relative to shoreline, and location of peak plume concentration over time. A graphic-based spill tracking tool (pdf, 1.4MB) for the St. Clair River was developed by NOAA-GLERL for the Water Treatment Plant operators based on data generated in each spill simulation.

An application is now being prepared to conduct spill scenario simulations in the St. Clair River and the Detroit River.

Developing Regional Solutions
SEMCOG is a regional planning partnership of governmental units serving 4.7 million people in the seven-county region of Southeast Michigan striving to enhance the region's quality of life.