Village seeks to slow the flow

A storm drain on Monday, April 29, 2019, in a park at the corner River and Bridge Streets, in Elk Rapids. The Village of Elk Rapids in with Partnership with Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay has applied for a grant to create rain gardens.

ELK RAPIDS — An effort to treat an estimated 1 million gallons of annual stormwater runoff before it splashes into Lake Michigan is afoot in Elk Rapids.

Village Council members agreed to commit employee work time toward an effort to garner a $150,000 federal grant to install several green infrastructure elements in the marina area along the Elk River and Lake Michigan.

Officials with the Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay seek to amass the needed funds to install rain gardens and a bioswale to help the village reduce both floods in the marina parking lot and pollutants that pour into East Bay there.

"Specifically, the project will retrofit a grassy area adjacent to the village marina into a bioswale and existing flower beds at a local park into rain gardens," said Sarah U'Ren, the center's program director.

A bioswale is a landscape element intended to remove debris and pollution from surface water runoff, much like a rain garden but on a larger scale.

"We're looking to treat about 1 million gallons a year of stormwater," said Christine Crissman, the center's executive director.

Crissman said sediments and nutrients are the greatest threats to water quality in Grand Traverse Bay, on which Elk Rapids sits along its eastern shoreline. She spoke about the grant application during the Elk Rapids Village Council meeting on April 15.

The nonprofit center helped the village create its stormwater action plan adopted last year, said Village Clerk Caroline Kennedy, and this project now falls under that umbrella.

Elk Rapids Village Council members unanimously agreed to contribute $7,000 worth of employee work time as an in-kind match toward the grant application.

U'Ren said the federal grant application is for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's Sustain Our Great Lakes program. The total project is expected to cost more than $200,000, with $4,000 already committed from the Elk Rapids Harbor Commission and another $45,000 in expected donations and local foundation pledges, she said.

This project is intended to increase the village's capacity to store stormwater at perhaps its primary Great Lakes interface: the rain gardens and bioswale are meant to hold onto rainfall runoff from the marina parking lot longer, allowing the water to seep into the ground and pass through plants' root structures, rather than quickly draining off directly into Lake Michigan and carrying street pollutants with it.

Such pollutants can include toxins, pathogens, nutrients, sediments and other chemicals, all of which impact water quality.

Village Trustee Patricia Perlman asked whether the plants expected to be grown in the rain gardens will be bird-friendly.

Crissman said the organization must first investigate the site's soil conditions to determine which specific plant species would be best for the green infrastructure elements. She also said snow storage in the marina parking lot during winter months may affect which plants are chosen.

The NFWF manages the Sustain Our Great Lakes program in partnership with a host of federal agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, among others. Among the funding priorities of the program are aquatic connectivity, stream and wetland habitat improvements and the installation of green infrastructure elements.