Rabbit River Watershed Project

Rabbit River Watershed Description

The Rabbit River Watershed is located primarily in Allegan County, with parts extending into Barry, Ottawa and Kent Counties. The watershed encompasses approximately 187,200 acres of primarily agricultural and forested land. Today, approximately 63% of the Watershed is agriculture, 16% forested, 9% wetlands, 6% urban, 5% open space, and 1% lakes.

The Rabbit River originates east of Wayland, Michigan, in Leighton Township, and flows westerly to join the Kalamazoo River at New Richmond, which then flows on to Lake Michigan north of the City of Saugatuck. The Rabbit River is a State Designated Trout Stream, as are several of its tributaries. Very few rivers in southwestern Michigan are designated trout streams, making the Rabbit River a highly valuable resource in this area.

Impairments to the Rabbit River Watershed

Streams in the Rabbit River Watershed have suffered impairments due to human derived land based activities. Biosurveys conducted by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) indicate that habitat and biological communities in the Rabbit River and tributaries are significantly degraded due to nonpoint source pollution.

Streams in the watershed are included on MDNRE non-attainment list. The Rabbit River Watershed is listed as one of eight watersheds on MDNRE’s Michigan’s Unified Watershed Assessment and Watershed Restoration Priorities. In addition, the Rabbit River Watershed is ranked third out of twenty-eight in the sate of Michigan as a Conservation Priority Area for the USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) to reduce non-point source pollution. Significant water quality impairments include degraded indigenous aquatic habitat and biotic diversity, reduced fish populations and flooding.

Major NPS pollutants include sediment, excessive nutrients, and high flow. Occasional spikes in fecal coliform bacteria have also been noted, raising concerns about water-body contact. Development is steadily increasing in the watershed as open space and agricultural land is re-zoned to residential and industrial. Allegan County’s population has increased more than ten percent since 1990 (according to the 2000 census).

History of Land Use Planning in the Rabbit River

The Land Use Planning Project was a great success in the Upper Rabbit River Watershed. The Upper Rabbit River Implementation Project, completed in 2002-2006, cost-shared the development of numerous model ordinances that are available to all townships to adopt.

This funded the adoption of three Lake Funnel Ordinances with Leighton, Hopkins and Monterey Townships. The City of Wayland, and Monterey, Leighton and Hopkins Townships have all adopted Water Overlay Ordinances. We hope to continue the Land Use Planning Project with other watersheds in the near future including the Gun River and Black River Watersheds.