Studying Lake Macatawa

The past two decades have been marked by numerous studies that were designed to establish the scope of the pollution within Lake Macatawa. Various research firms, schools and universities, and government agencies have looked at the pollutants and issues that have led to the watershed’s current state. For a more complete listing of research findings, visit the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council (MACC) at the link below:

A stream level logger (left) and suspended sediment sampler (right) installed on Peters Creek near Zeeland.

The research performed during this period has verified several important facts about the watershed:

  • The main pollutants of concern are excess sediment and nutrients. The main nutrient of concern is phosphorous. These contribute to hypereutrophic water conditions, meaning the lake looks murky, has too much sediment suspended in the water, and frequent algal blooms.
  • It has been shown that 90% of the phosphorous in the lake is attached to sediment that has washed into the river system from fields, parking lots, roads, and other land. This means that removing the sediment from the water could remediate both problems.
  • Fecal indicator bacteria, such as E. coli and Enteroccus faecalis, have been found with increasing regularity at testing locations near Dunton Park over the past decade. These levels, often well above the safe recreational contact limit, have led to frequent beach closings.
  • Testing has shown that unlike many other watersheds in West Michigan, there are no dangerous sources of industrial pollution in Lake Macatawa.

In order to address these issues, the sources of these pollutants need to be located. These pollutants are traditionally known as non-point pollution sources, meaning that they do not originate in one area, such as a factory or a drain. The ODCMG has partnered with Hope College and the MACC to conduct an unprecedented study of where the sediment, nutrients, and bacteria are originating, with the ultimate goal of identifying the areas where remediation efforts can be the most effective. With generous funding from community members and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, a total of 46 sediment and nutrient sampling locations and 11 bacterial sampling locations were established and monitored. Research was led by Dr. Graham Peaslee and Dr. Michael Pikaart, both of the Hope College’s Chemistry Department.

Learn more about the issues that Lake Macatawa and the Macatawa Watershed are affected with at this time.


Water Quality Project Report PDF