Muskegon County is rich with surface water! There are numerous inland lakes in Muskegon County. White, Duck, Muskegon, Bear, Mona and Little Black Lakes account for about 9,600 acres of surface water. These lakes discharge into the crown jewel of Lake Michigan. Numerous rivers and streams feed our inland lakes including White River, Muskegon River, Bear Creek, and Black Creek.
What many people do not realize is that over 130 county drains—more than 200 miles of surface water within Muskegon County—are situated at the upper reaches of most of our streams and lakes. For example, Twin Lake, which is part of the headwaters of Bear Creek, discharges into a county drain that becomes a branch of Bear Creek. Over 49 miles of the Black Creek Consolidated drain flow together to become Black Creek that flows into Mona Lake. We know that what happens on the land and in upstream waters directly impacts the quality of downstream rivers, lakes, and ultimately Lake Michigan. For those who care about the value and quality of our surface water, understanding county drains is part of the equation.
Most county drains were created in the late 1800s and early 1900s (under Michigan’s Drain Code) to facilitate development and farming. These drains remain under the jurisdiction of the Drain Commissioner’s office. When county drains were originally created during this time period, many natural streams were straightened and moved (often using dynamite) and large expanses of wetlands were drained-- before we fully understood the negative impact of these actions. When environmental protection laws were enacted in the late 1970s, most Drain Commissioner’s activities were exempt from having to seek permits from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy. That changed significantly in 2013 with amendments to state law.
Now Drain Commissioners are still responsible to maintain county drains to prevent flooding and protect property, but Drain Commissioners are also responsible for water quality and controlling soil erosion and sedimentation. Also, since the original drains were created, hundreds more surface water systems, which are part of modern developments, were also placed under the jurisdiction of the Drain Commissioner’s office. Drain Commissioners also sit on Lake Boards and work with municipal storm water permits. Learn more about the changing role and responsibilities of this office by exploring our website.