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The Rouge River is a tributary to the Detroit River, a nationally designated American Heritage River, which acts as part of the border between the United States and Canada. To those living in the headwaters of the watershed the Rouge appears to be a quiet and attractive stream. For many wholive further downstream, the Rouge River is a concrete channel on its way to a bustling industrial corridor which includes the historic Ford Motor Company Rouge Complex before it empties into the Detroit River.

Nearly a million and a half people in urban, suburban and rural areas live in the Rouge River Watershed. It spans approximately 438 square miles through 48 different communities and three counties. The Rouge River is 127 miles in length, has four main branches and many minor tributaries. Itis a highly urban river with little remaining undeveloped land and extensive public access. It isone of the State of Michigan's most accessible rivers.

This paper will discuss the partnerships and pooling of resources that resulted in innovative public education opportunities within one area of the Rouge River Watershed.

In 1999, the Main 1-2 Subwatershed Advisory Group, chaired by the Oakland County Drain Commissioner's Office (OCDC), began to develop its subwatershed management plan and public outreach campaign. The Main 1-2 Subwatershed is located entirely in Oakland County and comprises the northern portion of the watershed and includes headwater areas. Eighteen communities and OCDC are members of the Main 1-2 Subwatershed.

During the initial subwatershed management process, the Main 1-2 SWAG focused its public participation efforts on riparian land owners. Three public meetings were held to get input for the subwatershed management plan and typically drew 60-80 residents. The top concerns identified by the public were:

Disappearance of wildlife;

River flows and peaks that prevent the establishment of habitat;

Septic system maintenance;

Soil erosion;

Proliferation of geese;

Streambank erosion, and

Overuse of fertilizer.

This input not only helped frame the subwatershed management plan, but also the public education efforts in the Main 1–2 Subwatershed. These activities also fulfilled the public education requirements of the state storm water permit. Many partners, including the Main 1–2 Communities, OCDC and educational and non-profit organizations banded together to educate the public about storm water pollution and human impacts on local waterways.

OCDC has received several grants through the Rouge River National Wet Weather Demonstration Project (Rouge Project) to conduct public education activities. In many cases, OCDC staff time provided the match for the grant. This paper will address the major initiatives undertaken by OCDC and the Main 1–2 communities such as:

Riparian Homeowner Education: Since 2002, the Main 1–2 Subwatershed has published a biannual riparian newsletter, "Waterside Living" which is mailed to 4500+ riparian landowners in the Main 1–2 Subwatershed. Articles stress the responsibilities of living on the river and proper practices for riparian homeowners.

Radio and Television Ads: The Main 1–2 Subwatershed has developed several radio and television ads that focus on septic system maintenance; car wash practices and storm drain awareness. In many cases, the subwatershed group has received in-kind services from local cable companies to developthe ads.

Water Festival at Cranbrook Institute of Science: OCDC is a partner with Cranbrook Institute of Science in presentation of the Rouge River Water Festival held every September at Cranbrook. Annually, nearly 1,500 fifth-graders from Main 1–2 communities participate in interactive presentations that show them the many ways water affects their daily lives. Hands-on presentations teach students about storm water, wastewater treatment, soil erosion, wetlands, creeks and streams, habitatand sources of pollution.

Compost Bags and Literature: Compost bags containing stewardship messages and healthy lawn and garden brochures were distributed to the public through the Main 1–2 communities.

The Main 1–2 Subwatershed Public Education Group: Since 1999, OCDC has helped facilitate this group which is made up of community representatives. In addition to public education activities mentioned previously, the group also coordinated bus tours of the subwatershed for government officials; River Day activities and other public education initiatives.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2006-01-01

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