Rein in the Runoff: Michigan’s Spring Lake Stormwater Management Project

Kirsten Feifel
Posted on: 4/24/2013 - Updated on: 3/02/2020

Posted by

Rachel Gregg

Project Summary

Over the past few decades, stormwater has increased pollutant loads in Spring Lake, Michigan. In 2007, a collaborative team of researchers began working with the community of Spring Lake to develop an integrated assessment of Best Management Practices (BMPs) to reduce local stormwater impacts. The integrated assessment process involved a detailed assessment of natural, economic, and social issues, future population growth scenarios, and an analysis of potential BMPs. The final report, Rein in the Runoff, was released in 2009 and decision-makers are using it to help guide the development and implementation of local ordinances and structural improvements to reduce stormwater impacts.


Stormwater runoff is becoming more of a concern as rural and natural lands are transformed into impervious surfaces with the expansion of new urban and suburban development. Impervious surfaces cannot absorb rainwater and instead divert flows into local surface waterways and sewer systems. The increased flow rates in waterways and sewer systems can have many adverse impacts, including erosion, habitat damage, and more frequent flooding. Further, the flows tend to carry more pollutants as they wash away pollutants from impervious surfaces into local waterways and degrade water quality. In the Great Lakes region, climate change is expected to increase the frequency of severe storms and precipitation extremes such as droughts and floods. Thus, stormwater runoff will increasingly become an issue for regional communities.

Spring Lake is a small lake found on the west side of Michigan’s lower peninsula and it flows into Lake Michigan via the Grand River. Roughly half of Spring Lake’s watershed is forested but the area has become more urbanized over the past few decades. Urbanization and an increase in impervious surfaces have caused higher-than-normal levels of phosphorus in the lake, stimulating the growth of potentially-toxic cyanobacteria blooms and other waterborne pathogens. Indeed, Spring Lake has some of the highest phosphorus concentrations in all of West Michigan. Further, high stormwater runoff has increased shoreline erosion and damaged shoreline infrastructure.

In 2007, Michigan Sea Grant funded a research team, led by researchers at Grand Valley State University’s Annis Water Resources Institute, to identify ways to reduce runoff in the Spring Lake watershed. The primary objectives of the project were to:

  • Increase the residents’ knowledge and engagement in issues related to water resources and quality;
  • Identify inconsistencies between state and local regulations designed to improve stormwater management and control; and
  • Develop a series of BMPs to help Spring Lake reduce stormwater management issues.


The Spring Lake Watershed used an Integrated Assessment approach to develop new ways to manage stormwater flows. To complete the process, six steps were undertaken in collaboration with researchers and community members:

  1. Define the policy-relevant questions;
  2. Document the status and trends of relevant environmental, social and economic conditions;
  3. Analyze the consequences of trends in environmental, social and economic conditions;
  4. Develop and analyze forecasts of likely future conditions giving consideration to a range of policy and management options;
  5. Conduct cost analyses and assess technical feasibility of policy and management options; and
  6. Assess uncertainties associated with policy and management choices.

The current and future state of the Spring Lake watershed was assessed using the following research tools:

  • a regional wetlands and shoreline assessment,
  • a systematic comparison of potential stormwater solutions (both structural and nonstructural-ordinance based BMPs),
  • economic analyses of different BMP alternatives, and
  • forecasts of future land use and land cover change related to population growth. 

Results from the Spring Lake watershed assessment were digested into an integrated assessment stormwater runoff conceptual ecological model. This model highlights the key ecosystem drivers affecting stormwater, stressors to the ecosystem, ecosystem status indicators, societal values, and correlated performance measures. An atlas of maps was also made to visually display the integrated assessment current, expected and potential future outcomes associated with various BMPs.  

To help engage regional stakeholders, the project included the development and ongoing maintenance of a detailed project website – Rein in the Runoff. Baseline information, meeting announcements, summaries, presentations, and other educational information are included on the website. To further increase public engagement, a 47-person stakeholder steering committee was formed to help translate and disseminate project information to their neighbors. The steering committee met quarterly for approximately one year. Their most lively discussion was in regards to proposed changes of local ordinances on water quality and stormwater management.   

Researchers found that it was useful to ‘brand’ the project to help increase stakeholder participation. The project title “Rein in the Runoff” helped to increase community acceptance for project results. The brand was developed with stakeholder and research team participation and designed by a volunteer graphic artist. 

The research team also distributed a survey within the community to assess local understanding of water quality issues and to serve as an informal educational tool. Results from the survey indicated that most residents understood the potential sources of water pollution to Spring Lake.

Outcomes and Conclusions

The project drew to a conclusion in 2009. The integrated assessment successfully combined information about the environmental, economic and social aspects of stormwater management. The research project effectively disseminated information to a wide audience and numerous stakeholder groups. The primary message was that population growth and development have changed the region’s hydrology causing an increase in urban runoff and increased pollutant loads into Spring Lake. Without active management, stormwater runoff could present dire consequences to both the social and natural systems. A combination of structural and nonstructural stormwater BMPs could help to improve water quality. The research team identified their priority BMPs but also recognized that the solutions need to be agreed upon and initiated by the community to be successful.

The Rein in the Runoff report is intended to be used as a tool by decision makers to help improve stormwater management. The research team also developed an abbreviated version of the full report – The Rein in the Runoff Citizens Guide to Stormwater – to continue to increase public engagement and knowledge.


Feifel, K. M. (2012). Rein in the Runoff: Michigan’s Spring Lake Stormwater Management Project [Case study on a project of Michigan Sea Grant]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE:… (Last updated October 2012)

Affiliated Organizations

Michigan Sea Grant supports research, outreach, and education to enhance the sustainable use of Great Lakes resources to benefi t the economy, the environment, and quality of life.

The Robert B. Annis Water Resources Institute (AWRI) is a multidisciplinary research organization within GVSU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS).

AWRI's mission is to integrate research, education, and outreach to enhance and preserve freshwater resources.