Water in Southwest Michigan

Southwest Michigan has many wonderful streams, rivers, lakes and of course we border Lake Michigan. The Southwest Michigan Planning Commission is involved in many projects to protect and improve the water quality in Southwest Michigan.  However, for that to happen we need every resident, landowner, business owner, and local official to be involved!

Ways to Protect Water

Clean Water at Home
Everyone needs to do their part to protect our streams, rivers, inland lakes, and Lake Michigan! We depend on these water resources for our drinking water and for recreation: swimming, boating, and fishing.

How do pollutants enter the water?

In urban areas storm drains are a main source of pollutants, draining virtually everything from lawns, streets, and parking lots directly into local streams, rivers, and lakes. Most storm drains do not treat or filter pollutants.

Common pollutants include: fertilizers, pesticides, grass clippings, leaves, oil, grease, toxic chemicals, sediment, and pet waste.

 Properly Dispose of Household Hazardous Waste. Never dump items such as motor oil, fuel products, cleaners, paints, pharmaceuticals, and pesticides on the ground or down the drain. They can contaminate groundwater and surface water. Check with your county on free collection or drop off dates.

Limit Fertilizer Use. During watering or rainstorms, unnecessary phosphorus applied to lawns is washed into street storm drains, which empty directly into local waterways. Get a soil test at a MSU Extension Office to see what amenities your soil or lawn needs. It’s the law to use no-phosphorus fertilizer!

Maintain Your Septic System. If you have a septic system, have it checked and pumped every 2-3 years to insure it is working properly.

Close Abandoned Wells. Close any abandoned wells on your property. They can act as conduits for contamination of groundwater.

Only Rain in the Storm Drain. Rainwater and snow melt is the only thing that should wash down our storm drains. Anything else grass clippings, leaves, motor oil, even fertilizer is considered an ILLICIT DISCHARGE.

Pollution Emergency Alerting System (PEAS). In case of environmental emergency affecting air, land, water, wetlands, dams, or public drinking water supplies call: 1-800-292-4706

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A watershed is the area of land that catches rain and snow and drains or seeps into a marsh, stream, river, lake or groundwater. You are sitting in a watershed now. Homes, farms, ranches, forests, small towns, big cities and more can make up watersheds. Some watersheds cross county, state, and even international borders such as the Great Lakes Basin. Watersheds come in all shapes and sizes. Some are millions of square miles, others are just a few acres. Just as creeks drain into rivers, watersheds are nearly always part of a larger watershed or basin. For example the St. Joseph River Watershed is part of the Lake Michigan Watershed which is part of the Great Lakes Basin. Every stream, tributary or river has an associated watershed.

Most watersheds are composed of a mixture of uplands, wetlands, riparian areas, streams and lakes. The most common component of almost all watersheds is the upland area, covering in many cases over 99% of the total watershed area. The rain and snow that falls onto a watershed, and that does not evaporate, is stored in the soil, and over a period of time is released down slope through groundwater, wetlands and streams. This water then moves through a network of drainage pathways, both underground and on the surface.

What watershed are you located in?
All three counties in our Southwest Michigan region,  Berrien, Cass and Van Buren Counties, are in the Great Lakes Basin.


Within Berrien and Cass Counties, multiple communities fall under the NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) Phase II classification, which has educational requirements for increasing public awareness of the connection between individual actions and the health of the watershed and water resources. Overall the program works to improve the water quality of our lakes, streams, and rivers in order to provide safe swimming, fishing, canoeing and, drinking water.