How the new Michigan wetland law could affect Lake Mitchell. 

By Dave Foley


Last December during the lame duck session of the Michigan legislature, a bill was proposed that would have greatly changed the current wetland law in Michigan.  This concerned many living in areas near wetlands as these lands might more likely have been filled under the proposed law. Our state representative, Michele Hoitenga, found these changes troubling and worked hard to minimize effects of this law.  The result was that the new law is virtually the same as the original law. The most likely effect will be that if the Federal standards for altering wetlands changes, Michigan will have to comply with those changes as no state will be allowed to have standards that are stricter than federal law.

If you're wondering why we, as property owners on Lake Mitchell should be concerned about wetland laws, the information in the following paragraphs may be helpful:     

Nearly 35% of Lake Mitchell's watershed is wetland or open water. Along the shoreline of the lake, virtually the only areas that haven't been developed are wetland. Historically, wetlands were dismissed as useless land that should be filled in to build homes or drained for agricultural use.  These bogs, swamps, or marshes perform vital functions such as flood control, filtering of pollutants, and providing critical habitat for many fish and wildlife species. Wetlands absorb water that would otherwise flood yards and crawlspaces. Lowlands in the Lake Mitchell watershed hold the water releasing it more slowly into the lakes over a period of time.  During periods when there is little rain or snow melt, water seeping from wetlands helps keep the lake level from falling dramatically.

It is likely that filling wetlands would exacerbate the water level problems that have raised  concerns among property owners on Lake Mitchell. Wetland acts like a sponge to soak up water from the melting of winter snow or the effects of a major rainstorm. If this water wasn't trapped in wetlands, it would saturate low lying properties, flooding lawns and wetting crawlspaces.

In the summer when evaporation and drought drops Lake Mitchell's  water level, it is the gradual release of water from wetlands that helps that keeps the low lake level problem from getting even worse.  

The presence of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water promotes weed growth. Scientists have estimated that wetlands may remove between 70% and 90% of entering nitrogen and reduce phosphate concentrations by 50%. The estimated mean retention of phosphorus by wetlands is 45%. 

The marsh and swampland near Lake Mitchell provide essential wildlife habitat. When you hear the peepers and frogs calling in the spring, these sounds are coming from wetlands. These areas are also feeding grounds and provide cover for many forms of wildlife including migratory waterfowl and redwing blackbirds as well as wildlife species classified as rare, threatened, or endangered.       

Wetlands within 500 feet of Lake Mitchell or within 500 feet of any stream or pond are regulated by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). A wetland permit approved by the DEQ is required to do certain activities in wetlands. 

According to a 1991 United States Fish and Wildlife Service Wetland Status and Trends report, over 50% of Michigan's original wetlands have been drained or filled, thereby making the protection of remaining wetlands that much more important.