Muskegon Watershed

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Hydrologic Unit Code: 04060102

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Watershed Overview

Located in north-central Michigan, the Muskegon River watershed drains approximately 2,738 square miles of land spanning the better part of nine counties: Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Osceola, Clare, Mecosta, Montcalm, Newaygo, and Muskegon. The Muskegon River is approximately 219 miles long from its start at Houghten and Higgens Lakes down to its mouth at Muskegon Lake where it eventually discharges into Lake Michigan. Muskegon Lake is an Area of Concern. The AOC includes the entire lake with the lake being separated from Lake Michigan by sand dunes.

Sport fishing on the Muskegon is estimated to be worth about 5 million dollars per year in revenue. The river and many of its tributary streams and creeks are considered cool water fisheries. The can support both cold water fish such as trout and salmon, and warm water fish such as northern pike and smallmouth bass.

The Nature Conservancy has identified the following critical ecological resources in the watershed:

  • The Muskegon Dunes have Hemlock – Yellow Birch Forest, Great Lakes Beachgrass Dunes, and Interdunal Wetlands.
  • The Muskegon and White Rivers include Great Lakes Hemlock – Beech – Hardwood Forest, Inland Coastal Plain Marsh, Mesic Sand Tallgrass Prairie, and White Pine – White Oak Barrens.
  • Houghten Lake, Higgins Lake, and the Upper Muskegon River include very large, deep, insland lakes, very large, wetland connected inland lakes, and wetland connected headwater streams on outwash plain, ice contact and end moraine.

The river is faced with significant thermal pollution, which raises the water temperature, from dams from hydroelectric facilities, stormwater runoff, and a lack of streamside canopy. The rise in temperature reduces the available dissolved oxygen in the water stressing aquatic life. Other impairments include excessive nutrient loading, sedimentation, hydrologic flow, invasive species and toxic substances.

Between the years of 1996 and 2001, there has been a slight increase in developed land, grassland, and wetland, and a slight decrease in farmland and forest.

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Watershed Activities

Several efforts have been made to address water quality issues in the Muskegon River Watershed.

  • The Great Lakes Fisheries Trust has selected the watershed as the focus of the “River Initiative”.
  • The Hershey River Restoration Project is working to clean up contaminated sediments and the removal of dilapidated dam structures on the Hershey River.
  • The Muskegon Lake and Estuary Emergent Vegetation Restoration Demonstration Project is working to re-establish native and wild rice stands, soft stemmed bulrush, and other aquatic vegetation for fish and wildlife habitat in the Muskego Lake AOC.
  • The Sustainable Futures for the Muskegon River Watershed project has developed a geographical information system (GIS) outreach tool.
  • There are efforts to correct the effect of urban runoff and soil erosion and sedimentation at three highly visible sites within the AOC.

Watershed Groups

For more information, see the USEPA “Surf Your Watershed” website or contact the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment at 517-335-6969 to request a copy of the following reports:

  • MI/DEQ/WB-05/070, “A Biological Survey of the Middle Muskegon River Watershed, Clare, Mecosta, Newaygo, and Osceola Counties, Michigan, 2001,”
  • MI/DEQ/WB-05/071, “A Biological Survey of the Upper Muskegon River Watershed, Clare, Missakee, Osceola, and Roscommon Counties, Michigan, 2001.”
  • Report number 05/054 “A Biological Survey of the Lower Muskegon River Watershed, Muskegon, and Newaygo Counties, Michigan, July 7-11, 2001.”

Additional information is available at Michigan State University's Institute for Water Research's Digital Watershed Tool for the Muskegon Watershed. This site has interactive watershed-based information on industrial facilities discharge sites, toxic release inventory, permit compliance system, water quality stations, bacteria stations, national sediment inventory stations, best management practices, water quality observation stations, weather data stations, impaired waters (reach and area), landcover change (1992-2001), landuse 2001, soil, and elevation.

Watershed Management Plans

  • Higgins Lake – Huron Pines RC&D Council
  • Muskegon River - Grand Valley State University, Annis Water Resources Institute
  • Upper Clam River – City of Cadillac
  • Bear Creek
  • Bear Lake

Muskegon River Area of Concern

Muskegon Lake is a 4,149 acre inland coastal lake located in Muskegon County, Michigan along the east shoreline of Lake Michigan. The Muskegon Lake Areas of Concern (AOC) includes the entire lake with the lake being separated from Lake Michigan by sand dunes. The Muskegon River flows through the lake before emptying into Lake Michigan. Additional tributaries include Mosquito Creek, Ryerson Creek, Ruddiman Creek, Green Creek, and Four Mile Creek. The immediate inland area is primarily residential and industrial, with chemical and petrochemical companies, foundries, a pulp and paper mill, and other industries located on the lake or within its immediate watershed.

Muskegon Lake priorities include remediation of contaminated sediments in the lake and tributaries, prevention of eutrophication, nonpoint source pollution control, brownfield and waterfront restoration, and habitat restoration.

In 1985 Muskegon Lake was designated an AOC because of water quality and habitat problems associated with the historical discharge of pollutants into the AOC, and the potential adverse effect the pollutants could have on Lake Michigan. The high levels of nutrients, solids, and toxics entering the lake had caused a series of problems including nuisance algal blooms, reduced oxygen in the lake's deeper water, tainted taste of fish due to petroleum products in the water, and contaminated sediments. The pollutant discharges also were suspected of contributing to the degradation of benthos (bottom-dwelling organisms, also referred to as the benrhic community), the contamination of fish, and the reduction in fish and wildlife habitat. In addition, the development of chemical, petrochemical, and heavy industries was causing localized groundwater contamination that was moving toward the lake and its tributaries.

Watershed Data and Information

USGS Water Resources Links for: 04060102 - Muskegon

USGS State Information and Contacts:

Current Water Data:

All Water Data (Current and Historic Sites):

Other Data Links:

Current Regional/National Conditions:

Search USGS for Links, Publications and Web Sites Associated with:

EPA Links for the Muskegon - HUC 04060102 :

Impaired (303d) Waters

A listing of impaired waters can be found on the U.S. EPA's website for the Muskegon Watershed


Subwatersheds for the Muskegon River Watershed

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Information on other Lake Michigan subwatersheds can be found at Lake Michigan Subwatershed Information
HUC Watershed Name
04060102 0101 Higgins Lake
04060102 0102 Denton Creek
04060102 0103 Backus Creek
04060102 0104 Houghton Lake
04060102 0201 Willow Run
04060102 0202 Dead Stream
04060102 0203 Haymarsh Creek
04060102 0204 Headwaters West Branch Muskegon
04060102 0205 West Branch Muskegon
04060102 0206 Headwaters Butterfield Creek
04060102 0207 Dead Stream Flooding-Muskegon River
04060102 0208 Butterfield Creek
04060102 0209 Nellsville Ditch-Muskegon River
04060102 0301 Mitchell Creek
04060102 0302 Lake Cadillac-Clam River
04060102 0303 Pleasant Lake-Clam River
04060102 0304 Cunnerson Creek-Clam River
04060102 0305 Mosquito Creek
04060102 0306 Taylor Creek-Clam River
04060102 0307 Town of Falmouth-Clam River
04060102 0308 North Branch Creek-West Branch Clam River
04060102 0309 West Branch Clam River
04060102 0310 Clam River
04060102 0401 Wolf Creek
04060102 0402 Bear Creek-Muskegon River
04060102 0403 South Branch Town Line Creek
04060102 0404 Town Line Creek
04060102 0405 Floodwood Creek
04060102 0406 Cranberry Creek-Muskegon River
04060102 0501 Green Creek
04060102 0502 Crocker Creek-Middle Branch River
04060102 0503 Middle Branch River
04060102 0504 Dishwash Creek-Muskegon River
04060102 0505 Doc and Tom Creek
04060102 0506 Whetstone Creek-Muskegon River
04060102 0507 Chippewa Creek-Muskegon River
04060102 0601 Big Stone Creek
04060102 0602 East Branch Hersey River
04060102 0603 Lincoln Creek
04060102 0604 Burt Creek-Hersey River
04060102 0605 [Twin Creek-Muskegon River]]
04060102 0606 Hersey River
04060102 0607 Cat Creek-Muskegon River
04060102 0701 Buckhorn Creek-Muskegon River
04060102 0702 Dalziel Creek-Muskegon River
04060102 0703 Ryan Creek
04060102 0704 Cold Spring Creek-Muskegon River
04060102 0705 Bennett Creek-Muskegon River
04060102 0706 Hardy Dam Pond-Muskegon River
04060102 0801 West Branch Little Muskegon River
04060102 0802 East Branch Little Muskegon River
04060102 0803 Brackway Creek-Little Muskegon River
04060102 0804 [Brandy Creek-Tamarack Creek]]
04060102 0805 Weatherby Drain-Tamarack Creek
04060102 0806 Little Whitefish Lake
04060102 0807 Big Creek
04060102 0808 Quigley Creek-Little Muskegon River
04060102 0809 Tamarack Creek
04060102 0810 Little Muskegon River
04060102 0901 Croton Dam Pond-Muskegon River
04060102 0902 Bigelow Creek
04060102 0903 Penoyer Creek-Muskegon River
04060102 0904 Fourmile Creek-Muskegon River
04060102 0905 [Brooks Creek]]
04060102 0906 Minnie Creek-Muskegon River
04060102 1001 Cedar Creek
04060102 1002 Mosquito Creek-Muskegon River
04060102 1003 Bear Creek
04060102 1004 Muskegon River