MSU Extension natural resources programming provides research-based educational programs, information and technical expertise that assist west Michigan citizens in the protection, maintenance and enhancement of surface and groundwater quality.

Related Internet Links

Agriculture and Water Quality Resources

Agriculture is one of the most important industries in Michigan.  The Michigan Department of Agriculture has primary responsibility for promoting and regulating agriculture in Michigan. 

Links to organizations promoting environmental stewardship in agriculture:

Agriculture bulletins can be found at the following sites:

Septic Systems

Septic systems can be a very safe and effective waste disposal system when they are correctly located, adequately designed, carefully installed and properly managed. A failing system can result in bad odors in the house or yard and contaminated surface or groundwater. For homeowners proper maintenance is key to keep your family safe and to prolong the life of your septic system. 

Septic systems have two basic components, the septic tank and the drainfield. The septic tank allows solids to settle out of the wastewater. The drainfield allows the water to disperse. Both components help to clean up the water before it is released into the environment.

Septic pumping is the most essential part of properly maintaining a septic system. How often it needs to be done depends on how many people live in the house and how large the septic tank is.  This generally takes 3-5 years. The following chart can help you determine when to pump your tank. Find your tank size along the top of the table and the number of people in the household on the side. Where your information intersects is the estimated number of years between pumpings. 

Septic Systems

The actual number of years will also depend on other factors, such as whether you conserve water and use a kitchen sink disposal units. A septic pumper can inspect your tank to determine if it needs to be pumped.

A septic tank that is not pumped will eventually fill up with sludge. The sludge can clog the septic fields, causing the effluent to back up into the house or to surface in the septic field. Both situations can cause serious health risks to members of the household. Failing septic fields are also very expensive to replace.

Pond and Lake Issues

Lakes are very complex and can be difficult to manage. However with the changes going on around many of our lakes management is necessary for lakes to protect them. It is important to understand how lakes work before they can be managed. The University of Minnesota has an excellent online guide to understanding how lakes work: Understanding Lake Ecology.

Algae and aquatic weeds are an important part of our lake and pond ecosystems.  They provide food, oxygen, and habitat for fish and other aquatic animals. It is important to realize that it is impossible to eliminate all algae and aquatic plants. Your lake or pond is not a swimming pool and should not be expected to look like one! Plants and algae are necessary for a healthy pond or lake. The University of Florida has an online guide for identifying aquatic plants.  While not all of these plants are found in Michigan, this guide can help you identify common plants that you find.   

Sometimes algae and aquatic plants overtake the water and reduces your ability to recreate.  Excess weed and algae growth can also cause other serious problems such as: 

  • Fish die offs,
  • Blue-green algae (pea-soup algae) can produce toxins,
  • Dense weed beds impede recreation and can potentially entangle swimmers, water-skiers, etc.

It is extremely important to determine what is a healthy and level of aquatic plants and algae.  Generally this means a diverse set of plants.  Healthy plant stands also reduce problems with blue-green and filamentous algae. A common solution to the overgrowth of algae and aquatic plants are aquatic herbicides and algaecides.  The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Inland Lakes section provides permits for the chemical treatment of aquatic plants or algae. They can also provide help with the permit process. 

Shorelines can have an impact on what happens in a lake. A more natural shoreline tends to have a more diverse biological community and lower erosion problems.  High inputs of fertilizers or problems with erosion along the shoreline can promote weed and algae blooms.  It is best to minimize fertilizer inputs near the lake and make sure no fertilizer directly lands in the water.  Also try to use fertilizer that contains no phosphorus (the middle number in a fertilizer analysis, ie. 33-0-15).  Any bare soil should also be covered to prevent erosion. Minnesota has a website with a lot of information on Shoreline Management.

The following bulletins are available from the Oakland MSUE office and the MSU Extension Bookstore:

  • E-2690 Purple Loosestrife Project Cooperator’s Handbook:  Information on how to have a project to release beetles that eat Purple Loosestrife.  There are five different sections, several of which are targeted towards school age groups.  Cost is $5.00 for each section.
  • E-2745 Safe Harvest and Disposal of Aquatic Weedy Plants:  A short guide to help you prevent the spread of invasive species.  Cost is $0.20.
  • WQ-55 A Citizen’s Guide for the Identification, Mapping and Management of the Common Rooted Aquatic Plants of Michigan Lakes: This guide can help you identify the aquatic plants that are inhabiting your pond or lake, very useful for management. Cost is $8.95.
  • WQ-58 Occurrence, Distribution and Control of the Parasites that Cause 
  • Swimmer’s Itch in Michigan: Helpful information if your lake has problems with the swimmer’s itch parasites.  Cost is $3.00.
  • OC-447 Ponds – Planning, Design, Construction: A guide produced by the Natural Resource Conservation Service to provide a guide in designing and constructing your own pond. Cost is $7.50. 
  • OC-448 Lakescaping for Wildlife and Water Quality: The best guide on designing and implementing a more natural shoreline. Cost is $19.95. 
  • OC-507 Restore Your Shore: A CD version of Lakescaping for Wildlife and Water Quality that includes enhanced examples of landscapes. Cost is $29.95.

Wells and Water Testing

Michigan has more private wells than any other state in the United States. Wells and the groundwater they rely on are a very important to those individuals with private wells as well as to individuals whose communities rely on groundwater.

Groundwater is the water that saturates the spaces between rocks and soil particles. This water can be accessed by wells for domestic usage. 

Wells are used to access the groundwater for domestic use. Modern wells often look like a white plastic or metal pipe that is sticks a foot or so out of the ground. They will have a metal cap on top. The well pipe is commonly referred to as a well casing. Most wells will have a submersible pump, which is located within the well below the water table. Older wells may have a different setup, with the pump at the surface, or the entire pipe located underground.

As an owner of a private well should inspect the well annually to for cracks in the casing and cap to ensure that contaminants will not enter the well.  Also inspect the vent on the bottom of the cap between the two pipes to make sure there are no obstructions.  The casing should also be at least one foot above the surrounding soil and graded so that water drains away.  It is also important to be careful near the well where it sticks out of the ground. The activities that go on nearby can have an impact on the water.

Regular water testing is one of the important ways in which you can ensure that you have safe drinking water in your home.  If you are on a public water supply you can get more information on the quality of your water from your local community or from the MDEQ Community Water Supply Program.  A number of communities with public wells are part of the Wellhead Protection Program.  You can get additional information and maps of thewellhead protection area from the MDEQ Website.  

Odor and taste problems are common in well water. They come from a variety of minerals in the water. Use this chart (link to Common Water Contaminants .pdf) to help you identify problems and solutions. For a full list of regulated materials go to the EPA Drinking Water Website.

For households with private wells the local county health department offers free well water testing for bacteria and for common water minerals. They also do testing of surface water for coliform bacteria.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) also offers a variety of water quality testing for private wells. They can perform tests for lead and arsenic as well as for volatile and non-volatile organics (gasoline and oil) and pesticide screening.  You can get more information at their website or by calling the lab at (517) 335-8184. The MDEQ also certifies private labs. You can get to an interactive list of certified private environmental labs at the MDEQ website. The private labs offer a variety of services.  Contact them to find out what services they offer.

Odor and taste problems come from a variety of minerals in the water.  Use this chart (link to Common Water Contaminants .pdf) to help you identify problems and solutions. For a full list of regulated materials go to the EPA Drinking Water Website.