Monitoring Change in the Waters of Leelanau

Change is inevitable. But some changes in the region’s natural resources are caused and accelerated by human activities. In these cases, informed people can make choices about the future condition and quality of our natural resources. This video essay is about a long-term effort to track and understand changes in the freshwater ecology of Leelanau County.

Dr. Tim Keilty

Shimmering and beautiful, the clean, freshwater lakes and streams of northern Michigan provide essential habitat for fish and wildlife and recreation for tens of thousands of people. Water drives our economy and is central to our sense of place.

Of course, the natural resources are always changing and human activities accelerate those changes. With more and more development, the arrival of invasive species like zebra mussels and the rapidly changing climate – what’s happening to the water? Are small changes starting to add up? How shall we manage these changes?

Freshwater ecologist and limnologist, Dr. Tim Keilty says the only way to answer these questions is through long-term monitoring. And that’s why he helped the Leelanau Conservancy and volunteers from local lake associations design and launch a water monitoring program for Leelanau County over 25 years ago. As a volunteer and county resident, Keilty headed the lake water sampling effort for 20 years.

Yarrow Wolfe Brown

In recent years, the Leelanau Conservancy has been responsible for managing and coordinating stream and lake sampling efforts all across the county.  Yarrow Brown is the program coordinator for the Conservancy, helping to assure that the data gathering efforts are consistent and scientifically valid. With dependable data on the waters of Leelanau dating back more than a quarter century, this database represents a rare and valuable record of change.

Over the last two years, Professer Steven Kohler of Western Michigan University has been helping Brown and the Leelanau Conservancy build a new data set focusing on lake and stream ecology. Joined by the students of his freshwater ecology field class, Kohler is helping the Conservancy build a baseline of information about the bottom dwelling organisms known as benthic macroinvertebrates (e.g., larva of insects, worms, leeches, crayfish). These organisms are very sensitive to changes in water quality, including temperature changes and various forms of pollution.

Dr. Steven Kohler

As explained by Keilty, these monitoring efforts have contributed to our understanding of the impacts of invasive species such as zebra mussels over the last 20 years. Kohler and Brown point out that the changing climate is also a huge driver of change and is already impacting the waters of Leelanau County. This water monitoring database is a critical resource for understanding and managing those changes.

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