The Upper Grand River

This is where the Grand River starts. Springs bubble up through the ground, melting snow fills wetlands until they overflow, and raindrops collect to flow across fields and city streets. All of these combine to form the headwaters, the source, of Michigan's longest river. 10 to 15,000 years ago, glaciers sculpted south-central Michigan. On the other side of hills to the east, streams that form the River Raisin and the Huron River flow southeast to Lake Erie. But from the northeast corner of Hillsdale and southern Jackson Counties, the Grand River begins a 260 mile journey north and west to Lake Michigan (click here for a map showing the drainage areas for Michigan's Great Lakes).

The Grand River is so long that it's more manageable if broken into two parts. The Upper Grand River Watershed is the headwaters; from Hillsdale County north, through the City of Jackson, past Eaton Rapids. The Lower Grand River flows on from there; through Lansing and Grand Rapids to Grand Haven.

The Upper Grand River Watershed encompasses most of Jackson County, the southern tier of Ingham County, and small corners of Hillsdale, Eaton, Calhoun, and Washtenaw Counties – from south of the City of Jackson, north past Eaton Rapids. It's an area dominated by farms, woods, and wetlands. But cities and towns along the way are growing as people able to commute to Jackson, Lansing, Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor, and beyond move here to enjoy the wonderful scenery and rural character of the watershed. How the region grows, and how we protect the headwaters, will determine the health of the River throughout its length.

What is a Watershed?

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A watershed, sometimes called a river basin or a catchment, is a kind of tilted bowl in the landscape. Within that shallow bowl, water gathers and flows downhill, ultimately to a common outlet at the lowest elevation. Watersheds are nested within one another´┐Ż For example; the watershed of Batteese Lake is part of the Batteese Creek watershed, which flows into the Portage River, which is tributary to the Grand River, which, along with the Muskegon, Pere Marquette, Kalamazoo and other rivers is part of the Lake Michigan Watershed.

Wherever you live, everywhere you go, you are in a watershed. Click here for a map of the watershed and its sub-basins. What's your watershed address?

What's a TMDL?

TMDL is short for Total Maximum Daily Load. That's a long way of saying a target for reducing pollution. TMDLs are calculated and required by the state of Michigan for area lakes, streams, or rivers that fail to meet water quality standards.

Unfortunately this is the case for portions of the Upper Grand River and its largest tributary, the Portage River. Four (4) TMDLs have been developed for portions of the Upper Grand River. Concentrations of Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria in the river are too high in both the Grand River and Albrow Creek, exceeding water quality standards for swimming and other forms of full-body contact. Dissolved oxygen (DO) concentrations are too low. Fish and "bug" populations are also poorer than they should be so a biota TMDL is in place for part of the Upper Grand mainstem and parts of the Portage River.

Soil eroded from the river's banks, washed off our lawns, streets, parking lots, and farm fields is the chief reason for both poor habitat and low dissolved oxygen in the river. Communities, agencies, and individuals within the watershed are searching for ways to reduce this sediment load. This includes sweeping streets, planting buffer strips between cropland and the river, using no-till farming methods, stabilizing eroding stream banks, enacting new ordinances, and storing and reducing runoff.

This map shows the areas covered by the 4 TMDLs. Our 2009 newsletter series explores each of the TMDL pollutants. For more information, browse through our sediment (biota & DO) and bacteria newsletters.