GVSU partners with Ottawa County for groundwater management plan


Courtesy / Ottawa County Groundwater

Laureen Horan

Grand Valley State University has recently partnered with Michigan State University and the Ottawa County Planning Department to find a solution for inconsistencies in groundwater quality within Ottawa County. As the county’s population continues to grow and the agricultural and productive industries in the community flourish, maintaining access to clean water is becoming a challenge.

Now that MSU’s extensive groundwater study of the area is complete, the county is ready to take action. With help from the GVSU Water Resources program as well as the Public Relations program, Ottawa County is working to promote conservation in the community and determine what steps to take next. 

Alan Steinman, the Allen and Helen hunting director of the Annis Water Resources Institute, has helped oversee the project.

Steinman explained that the aquifer under Ottawa County has a clay lense beneath it and deeper below that is a bedrock aquifer. Water from the bedrock aquifer isn’t replenishing fast enough because the clay lens is acting as a barrier. Not only are the water levels low, but the water available is showing increased levels of chloride in certain parts of the county. 

“Farmers in Ottawa County are suffering from this,” Steinman said. “As development of the project expands, we will determine what kind of conservation plan to put into action, or else start bringing in a municipal supply, but that would mean spending millions.”

Steinman and others involved with the project agree that a conservation plan would be ideal. 

“Clean water is an underappreciated resource in Michigan. We have to be smarter with our water,” Steinman said. 

That’s where GVSU’s student-run PR firm is stepping in. Adrienne Wallace, an instructor of Advertising and Public Relations, created a three-month capstone project for her senior students that focuses solely on Ottawa County’s groundwater issue. 

“The county came to us for help, actually,” Wallace said. “Paul Sachs [director of the Ottawa County Planning and Performance Improvement] reached out to us and said they wanted to work with students for data collection and to create campaigns to spread information and bring awareness to conservation.”

Wallace said this is an excellent opportunity for her students to apply their skills to the world around them. 

“With any Capstone, you want to address a real world issue and actually make contributions. This will be a successful project if [Sachs] can take anything we’ve worked on and implement it without having to alter it much,”  Wallace said. 

Wallace’s students are helping Ottawa County’s planning department disperse educational outreach materials that include water conservation methods, land use planning strategies, well-water monitoring procedures and infrastructure expansion recommendations.

“I really appreciate the county’s willingness to be so transparent with the community about the issue and address it before it becomes a crisis,” Wallace said.