Ottawa County creates board to help protect and conserve groundwater resources

When a 2018 study by Michigan State University revealed declines in the quality and quantity of Ottawa County’s deep bedrock aquifers, county officials took immediate action by developing the Groundwater Sustainability Initiative. 

The latest step took place at the County Board of Commissioners’ March 23 meeting, when it established the Ottawa County Groundwater Board. The new, 15-member advisory body will provide policy recommendations and help develop regulatory standards to protect and conserve this vital resource. 

Featuring a cross-section of industry leaders, scientists, and local officials, the Groundwater Board is well-rounded with professionals who will help guide the county’s efforts to effectively manage its precious groundwater resources into the future in collaboration with the county’s Planning & Performance Improvement Department.

Board members

The board’s membership includes:
  • Greg DeJong, county commissioner, District 8
  • Matthew Fenske, vice-chair commissioner, District 11
  • Adam Elenbaas, supervisor, Allendale Charter Township
  • Kevin Peters, supervisor, Blendon Township
  • Alan D. Steinman, Ph.D., Allen & Helen Hunting director and professor, GVSU Annis Water Resources Institute
  • John A. Yellich, director, Michigan Geological Survey
  • Steve Hecksel, proprietor, Hecksel Bros. Well Drilling, LLC
  • Megan Boos, executive director, Ottawa Conservation District
  • Dale Buist, owner, Countryside Greenhouse
  • Travis Williams, CEO, Outdoor Discovery Center
  • Angela Brown, director of facilities management, Ottawa Area Intermediate School District
  • Dale Zahn, CEO, West Michigan Lakeshore Association of Realtors
  • Patrick Staskiewsicz, public utilities director, Ottawa County Road Commission
  • John Truscott, CEO, Truscott Rossman
  • Dave Kraker, retired (Kent County Environmental Health)

‘Critical undertaking’

“Each of these individuals graciously agreed to serve the county in this important, critical undertaking,” says Ottawa County Administrator Al Vanderberg. “This amalgam of officials, experts, and stakeholders will guide us to a sustainable future.”
Paul Sachs
The county also anticipates creating, pursuant to bylaws of the new board, a separate Groundwater Technical Advisory Committee. This committee, composed of field experts, will provide technical and logistical assistance, and help diagnose and solve unique challenges for residents, developers, and businesses alongside the Planning and Performance Improvement Department.

“Working in conjunction with Department Land Use Planners, Technical Advisory Committee members will be our policy and advisory ‘boots on the ground,’” says Paul Sachs, director of Planning & Performance Improvement. “They will help with water conservation techniques, technologies, and methods on a hyper-local, sometimes individual basis. Being that groundwater conditions can vary widely from location to location, it’s important we tailor our recommendations to these local conditions."

Reliance on supply

Nearly half of all Michigan residents rely on groundwater sources to supply their homes and businesses; Ottawa County is no exception. Following anecdotal reports of low water pressure and damaged crops from salty water, Commissioners requested a water study be conducted. A two-part, in-depth study of Ottawa County groundwater by Michigan State University revealed:

Levels in the deep bedrock aquifer system have been declining for 20 years and, in certain areas, sodium chloride (salt) levels are rising above recommended standards.
These issues will continue if proactive steps are not taken to manage withdrawal rates.

To tackle this local water crisis, the planning and performance improvement department spearheaded the creation of the Groundwater Sustainability Initiative, a partnership with local scientists, policymakers, and stakeholders to develop a plan for practical solutions to protect Ottawa County’s groundwater supply. 

The mission: “To ensure residents and stakeholders have permanent and reliable access to fresh water for reasonable use. Through educational outreach in schools and the community at large, partner-managed programs that offer tips and promote changes in water use habits, policy changes within local units of government, and inter-departmental coordination within the County, we are making water conservation a priority in West Michigan.”

More information on Ottawa County’s groundwater issues can be found at

Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.

Shandra Martinez is the managing editor of The Lakeshore WM.
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