Conservation Technology Support Program: GIS Experiences from Prior Recipients

Huron River Watershed Council



By Kris Olsson, Huron River Watershed Council, 20 July 24, 1996

1. GIS Achievements: The Huron River Watershed Council has spent most of this first year building our GIS system, gathering data, and configuring the data to make it workable for our system. As stressed in our training in Virginia, of the four main components of a GIS -- trained staff, data, hardware, and software -- it is the first two that are the most important and require the largest commitment. This has certainly proved to be the case for the Watershed Council.

2. Personnel: We have designated about a half time equivalent worth of staff time dedicated to the set up of our GIS. Staff training has been a major focus of the first year, with staff attending several one - two day workshops on GIS and ArcInfo, a semester-long ArcInfo class, and the ESRI "Introduction to ArcInfo " class donated as part of CTSP. These sessions, however, did not address issues of hardware, software, and data formatting capabilities. It has taken the bulk of staff time to resolve these issues.

3. Data Collection: The second major component of GIS, data collection and formatting, has taken the bulk of our staff time. The Watershed Council has collected the following data layers:

  • Land Use/Cover (Anderson Level Classification) taken from aerial photography flown in 1978 and in 1990
  • Soils digitized from Soil Conservation Books
  • Base maps of roads, waterways, etc. digitized by the Michigan Resource Inventory System
  • Watershed boundaries, digitized from Watershed Council maps
  • Groundwater data, taken from well logs filled in by drillers for each well drilled in Michigan
  • Pre-settlement data - digitized from the original General Land Office surveys as they walked across the state and inventoried the landscape and plant communities
  • Michigan Natural Features Inventory - The Nature Conservancy ës inventory of threatened and endangered plant and animal communities

These data layers came in a variety of formats (intergraph design files, spreadsheets, graphic maps without attribute data, other kinds of GIS formats), so staff had to convert them all into PC ARC/INFO format. However, the Watershed Council has, indeed, established our GIS station on not one, but two computers, and we have developed a partnership with the University of Michigan to utilize their resources, as well. The Watershed Council considers the acquisition and formatting of all of this data as a successful project in itself, but, meanwhile, we have moved forward to use our GIS in a couple of our watershed management projects. Middle Huron Initiative The middle portion of the Huron River basin accommodates over half of the watershed ës population. This has resulted in two recreational impoundment's on the downstream end of the middle Huron area experiencing nuisance algae growth. The seventeen communities in the middle Huron area are working with the Watershed Council and the County Drain Commissioner to analyze the source of the algae problem and find solutions to it.

4. Analysis: Using GIS, staff at the Watershed Council have modeled phosphorus loadings to the River from middle Huron Creeksheds. From this information, policy makers can target which areas on which to focus in the pollution reduction strategy (see enclosed map). Davis Creek Forum One of the Watershed Council ës major activities is to work with local communities to develop watershed based land use planning tools and practices. One of our projects focuses on the communities within the Davis Creek watershed. Davis Creek is a tributary of the Huron River. The GIS component of this project has included presentation of maps showing the Davis Creek sub-basin and how it flows through municipal boundaries; and intersecting our land use/land cover coverage onto the base maps of the area as well as onto the Davis Creek watershed boundary. We are also relating their current land uses to imperviousness. Several recent studies have concluded that if the percent of the land area of a creek or river basin that is impervious (that is, covered with pavement, roof tops, or other materials that water run off of) increases above 10 - 15%, that waterway will be severely impacted. Certain land use types have a certain average imperviousness associated with them. For instance, a typical commercial land use is about 56% impervious, while a forest is only 1.9% impervious. The Watershed Council has modeled the percent imperviousness currently in each creek shed in the Huron Basin. This figure, used along with other assessment information, such as biodiversity indices taken from Creek Bio-monitoring Studies, will provide information to communities about the current quality of their creeks and how they may improve or sustain it.


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Text and graphics: Huron River Watershed Council
January 2, 1997

Design and Layout: Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc.
January 2, 1997