Portage Lake, a picturesque gem nestled in the heart of Onekama Township, Michigan, is not just a tranquil retreat for residents and tourists. It’s a living, breathing ecosystem teeming with biodiversity, and safeguarding its health is of paramount importance. During a recent Onekama Township special meeting held on May 25, Bre Grabill, an environmental scientist with PLM Lake & Land Management Corp., shed light on the ongoing efforts to ensure the well-being of Portage Lake.
The Battle Against Eurasian Watermilfoil
One of the primary threats to Portage Lake’s ecological balance is Eurasian watermilfoil, an invasive aquatic plant notorious for forming thick mats in shallow waters. These dense mats can block sunlight, which, in turn, can have dire consequences for native aquatic plants—a critical source of food and shelter for fish and other underwater species.
Grabill revealed the progress made in managing Eurasian watermilfoil. In 2009, a whopping 161 acres of Portage Lake were infested with this invasive plant. However, after a decade of diligent management efforts, that number plummeted to a significantly more manageable 49.5 acres in 2018.
While complete eradication of Eurasian watermilfoil may not be feasible, Grabill emphasized the importance of monitoring its growth and implementing management strategies as necessary to ensure that it doesn’t overwhelm the lake ecosystem.
The Role of the Community in Preservation
Preserving the ecological integrity of Portage Lake isn’t solely the responsibility of environmental scientists and management authorities. It’s a collaborative effort that requires active participation from the community. To this end, Grabill shared a series of actionable steps that residents and visitors can take to contribute to the lake’s health:
- Responsible Yard Maintenance: Avoid raking leaves into the lake, as decomposing leaves contribute to increased muck levels.
- Mind the Waterfowl: Refrain from feeding ducks and geese. Also, clean up after dogs, geese, and ducks, ensuring that their droppings are not left to wash into the lake, as excess feces can elevate nutrient levels.
- Phosphorus-Free Fertilizer: Use phosphorus-free fertilizer to minimize phosphorus runoff, which can lead to increased algae growth.
- Erosion Prevention: Regularly perforate your lawn and implement seed and mulch to prevent soil erosion. Also, consider using silt fences during construction and yard work to reduce erosion.
- Waste Management: Keep burn piles and debris piles away from the lake, as the ash can introduce concentrated nutrients.
- Sustainable Landscaping: Encourage the use of porous materials like stone and brick when designing landscapes to reduce urban water collection.
- Natural Buffers: Create natural buffers near the water’s edge to help filter runoff and prevent pollutants from entering the lake.
By collectively adhering to these practices, the community can play a pivotal role in safeguarding Portage Lake’s delicate ecosystem.
Monitoring and Innovative Solutions
Beyond the management of invasive species like Eurasian watermilfoil, Grabill highlighted the importance of monitoring algae levels and phosphorus concentrations. Algae, while a natural component of lake ecosystems, can become problematic when their levels surge due to excessive nutrients like phosphorus.
Portage Lake has seen remarkable improvements in phosphorus levels over the years. While 2012 witnessed alarming levels as high as 70 micrograms per liter, recent readings have consistently remained below 10 micrograms per liter, well within the ideal range.
Grabill also introduced cutting-edge technologies like ProcellaCOR, an herbicide with a reduced-risk rating from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. ProcellaCOR represents a significant advancement in aquatic plant management, allowing for the selective removal of invasive plants while minimizing the risk of herbicide resistance.
While systematic surveys and monitoring are vital, Grabill underscored the importance of community vigilance. Area residents, who intimately know the lake and its surroundings, can be the first to notice any signs of trouble. By promptly reporting any irregularities or concerns, they effectively act as citizen scientists, contributing to the shared effort to protect the watershed.
Portage Lake’s commitment to preserving its natural beauty is evident in its rigorous water quality testing program. In 2021 alone, PLM conducted seven comprehensive surveys of the lake—a testament to their dedication to its well-being.
With a robust management program and the active involvement of the community, Portage Lake stands as a shining example of responsible environmental stewardship. The annual budget of $83,600 allocated to the lake management program in 2021 saw only $48,500 expended—a testament to the program’s efficiency and responsible financial management.
Onekama Township supervisor David Meister affirmed that the surplus funds would not be hoarded but instead used for the betterment of the community. The aim is to eventually cease collecting funds from the Special Assessment District and utilize the remaining balance for community enhancements, ensuring that Portage Lake remains a vibrant, thriving, and ecologically balanced treasure for generations to come.
In conclusion, Portage Lake serves as a poignant reminder that the preservation of our natural resources requires collective effort, responsible practices, and vigilant stewardship. Through the dedication of environmental scientists, the commitment of the community, and innovative solutions, Portage Lake’s pristine beauty remains protected, serving as a valuable example for environmental conservation.