Kalamazoo River pollution creates hazards for water recreation

In October of 2019, Eagle Creek Renewable Energy opened the spill gates of Morrow Dam to make urgent repairs. These spills gates were open for over a year, and released 400,000 cubic yards of sediment into the Kalamazoo River. Today, the sediment is still effecting wildlife, and creating hazards for water recreation. 

In October of 2019, Eagle Creek Renewable Energy lowered the level of Morrow Lake in Comstock Township to make urgent repairs to the dam. This process meant leaving the dam open, allowing sediment which had built up behind the dam to be released into the Kalamazoo River. Eagle Creek predicted repairs would take four months, but instead they dragged on for over a year. 


The result: 400,000 cubic yards of sediment washed into the Kalamazoo River. This sticky mud appears in patches along the river, filling in habitats where fish would lay their eggs, and effecting water clarity.


Almost two years later, sediment pollution is still having negative effects on the Kalamazoo River. Lois Heuchert, owner of the Plainwell Kayak Company, is no stranger to sediment pollution. Even though she is located over 20 miles downriver from the Morrow Dam, she is still seeing the mud along her kayaking routes. 


“I actually had one of my customers tell me that they didn’t get out at the Portage trail… and when I asked her why she said, ‘because there was so much mud,’” said Heuchert. 


Heuchert has also begun to notice a difference in water quality on the stretch of the Kalamazoo River closest to her business. The water was once crystal clear, but now the river has become murky and heavy with sediment. 


“This isn’t anything as deep as you would find in Kalamazoo, or other spots upriver, but you can see that the sediment is coming this way,” Heuchert said. 


Heuchert now has to warn Kayakers to avoid the mud. She recommends that if you encounter a patch of mud on the river, that you test it with your paddle before getting out of your water craft.


“When I hear about areas in Kalamazoo that can be 10-11 feet deep, that does become a real hazard,” Heuchert said. 


Heuchert worries that more sediment will come her way if Eagle Creek does not make a greater effort to clean the river pollution. If mud begins to make her current river trails too treacherous for guests, she will have to start opening up new sections of the river for recreators to kayak on. 


Watch the video above to hear more of Lois’ story.

Click here to learn more about the Kalamazoo River pollution from the Public Media Network.