County Drain Commissioners have the responsibility of administering the State of Michigan’s Drain Code, Act 40 of 1956. This is a law that amended and codified drain law which was first passed in the late 1800s. Among other things the State Drain Code lays out strict processes for taking action on drain projects.
In the mid-1800s, people were fearful of coming to live in Michigan because of water-borne diseases such as malaria, cholera, and yellow fever. Because Michigan once had large systems of “swamps”. It was thought that, the establishment of drainage systems was necessary for public health. Drainage systems (most of them open ditches) were initially installed and maintained by property owners; but conflict soon arose between landowners when the action of one owner negatively impacted another. To provide broader oversight, Michigan’s townships took control of the drain systems around the 1860s. Later, the legislature changed state law to create an office for one countywide elected official.
Because Drain Commissioners have been around since the mid-1800s they were exempt from laws protecting the environment. They did not have to obtain wetland or inland lakes and streams permits nor follow soil erosion control practices to protect natural resources because many of these laws were passed in the 1970s. When I took office in 2013, amendments to state law eliminated many of these exemptions.
Video brought to you by the Michigan Association of County Drain Commissioners
Environmental Quality & Natural Resource Management
Early in Michigan’s history drain projects were built to relieve flooding and to make land more suitable for agriculture and development. Although most projects made life more convenient for a new state and its growing population, drain projects in the past were responsible for a significant amount of environmental degradation that included draining vast amounts of wetlands, channelizing (straightening) natural streams, and negatively impacting important wildlife habitat. Fortunately, modern Drain Commissioners strive to balance the need for proper drainage with environmental quality and natural resource management. They are also becoming much more involved in surface water quality primarily through better storm water management.
It is still critical to maintain good drainage to protect public health and property, but Drain Commissioners must now also consider environmental impacts and water quality. In fact, many counties have changed the office name to “Water Resources Commissioner.”
Today, Muskegon County has over 100 established county drains that encompass over 216 miles of open storm drains and 21 miles of enclosed storm drains. Additionally, there are some 200 storm water detention facilities under the authority of the Drain Commissioner. The majority of the County’s drainage districts were established in the early 1900s, so much of the work of this office is maintaining existing systems. Not all drains that you see, however, are under the Drain Commissioner’s jurisdiction; some are County Road Commission roadside ditches, and many others are private.
In addition to drain oversight, Drain Commissioners can be involved in:
- Lake level establishment and maintenance
- Lake Boards that are formed to address lake management issues such as nuisance aquatic vegetation and algae
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s storm water permit requirements (administered by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality)
- Site plan review as it pertains to storm water management
- Water pollution abatement by reducing illicit discharges into county drains
Brenda M. Moore, Drain Commissioner
Brenda M. Moore holds a Bachelor of Science from Grand Valley State University (majoring in Natural Resource Management) and a Master of Science from Michigan State University from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (majoring in Community Development). Studies included; forestry, wildlife management, fisheries, soils, biology, botany and geology. She began working in the land use and community development field in 1984.
Her experience entails many roles including regional planning, private consulting and as staff member in county, township and city government. She has worked for two highly regarded consulting firms; the Planning & Zoning Center (based in Lansing) and Langworthy, Strader, LeBlanc (based in Grand Rapids). Brenda’s work took her to communities in the greater Saginaw, Lansing, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, and Traverse Bay regions before she settled in Muskegon (the big lake called to her!). She has a broad range of experience including grant writing and administration, land use and watershed planning, site plan review, and ordinance drafting and enforcement. In her various governmental positions she has supervised planning staff, zoning administrators, building officials and code enforcement officers. She was appointed to the County Drain Commissioner’s post in 2013.
Moore is also published writer and trainer having worked with the Michigan Municipal League, Michigan Townships Association, Michigan Association of Planning, and Planning & Zoning News. She was also previously certified nationally with the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) and in Michigan as a Professional Community Planner (PCP).
Brenda’s grant writing and administration experience includes work with the U.S. Economic Development Administration; Land and Water Trust Fund, Michigan Department of Natural Resources; Nonpoint Water Pollution prevention, Michigan Department of Environment Great Lakes & Energy; Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, U.S. EPA and the Michigan Department of Transportation.
Important training Ms. Moore has participated in includes; the Institute for Healing Racism, Time and Project Management, Dealing with Difficult People, Industrial Storm Water Management, and Soil Erosion and Sedimentation Control.
Stephanie J. Barrett, Deputy Drain Commissioner
Mrs. Barrett has been working in the Drain Commissioner’s office since 2011. She was promoted twice before Ms. Moore took office and appointed her as the Deputy Drain Commissioner.
Stephanie holds two Associate’s Degrees from Muskegon Community College. She also has two state certifications in Soil Erosion and Sedimentation Control (SESC) and is a member of the Michigan Association of Drain Commissioners.
Stephanie has been in local government since 2003 in a professional capacity as a planner, zoning administrator, township deputy supervisor, finance staff, and project manager. She has been heavily involved with land use, public infrastructure assessments, project management, site plan review, ordinance drafting and enforcement. Prior to joining the Drain Commissioner’s office she served on the county’s Wastewater Committee and Water Policy Board. She has also been a Planning Commissioner.
Stephanie’s responsibilities as the Deputy Drain Commissioner are broad and include general office administration; finances (oversight of payments and invoices, drain special assessments, borrowings, reconciliation of statements, budget preparations, and budget accountability); research regarding County Drains (historical documents, route and courses, district boundaries, etc.). She also assists with consultants, project management, drain inspections; complaint resolution; attendance at various meetings; and assisting the Drain Commissioner with the office’s daily demands.
The Drain Commissioner's education and professional experience is in Natural Resource Management. The following are the guiding principles for this office:
- Good surface water quality is paramount to Muskegon County’s economy, public safety, and quality of life.
- The need for drainage must be balanced with stewardship and a consideration of future generations.
- Investments are made for longevity, not expediency, which results in a long-term cost savings and longer life span of the investment.
- We must use creative approaches to reduce costs by seeking project partners, grants, etc.
Unmitigated storm water runoff is the Nation’s Number 1 Water Quality problem-as reported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). With EPA oversight, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) requires that units of government, which hold NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permits for storm water discharges, uphold certain standards for their management.
The County, through the Offices of the Drain Commissioner and the Road Commission, holds NPDES storm water permits. The cities of Muskegon, Norton Shores, Muskegon Heights, Roosevelt Park, and North Muskegon also hold similar NPDES permits. Most Muskegon County municipalities collaborate to meet MDEQ requirements through the Muskegon Area Municipal storm water Committee (MAMSWC). The Drain Commissioner is a member of that group.
Storm Water Pollutants
Unmanaged storm water can carry a variety of pollutants to surface water including:
- Petroleum-based products, metals, nutrients, and heated water from pavement
- Herbicides, pesticides, and nutrients from lawns and farm fields
- Soil eroded from construction sites and farmland (which can contain manure, fertilizer, pesticides and other chemicals)
Effects of Untreated Water
High volumes of untreated storm or melt water rushing to receiving bodies (lakes and streams) further degrade water quality and wildlife habitat by changing natural water temperatures. For example, a change in just a couple of degrees in water temperature can eliminate trout from an existing stream. Surges in water also scour soil from water channels and deposit soil sediment into stream habitat.
Sediment can smother fish spawning areas and food sources and undermine and uproot trees that stabilize banks (sometimes increasing flood hazards in the process). Sediment also clogs culverts, catch basins, and other storm water control features potentially damaging property and costing owners significant money.
Why It's Important
In an area with such a wealth of surface water - and a dependence on tourism for the economy - it is critical to make a concerted effort to improve and maintain good water quality and appropriate water quantity throughout Muskegon County.