published February 7, 2013

Saginaw Bay GLISTEN Cluster Fosters Collaboration, Leverages Needed Resources

By Glenn Odenbrett, NCSCE
This piece is an update on work begun as part of NCSCE's GLISTEN initiative.

Most people living outside of Michigan's lower peninsula - often referred to as the "Michigan mitten" - have probably never heard of the Kawkawlin River. One of several tributaries to Lake Huron just north of the mitten's "thumb" and Bay City, the Kawkawlin empties into Saginaw Bay, a Great Lakes "Area of Concern" or toxic hot spot which suffers from algal blooms harmful to fish, wildlife, pets and humans.

Since 2010, the Saginaw Bay Watershed Collaborative Cluster of NCSCE's GLISTEN (Great Lakes Innovative Stewardship Through Education Network) project has made the Kawkawlin River the focus of its environmental service-learning efforts. Faculty and students from Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) and its 2-year partner Delta College have been working in collaboration with the Kawkawlin River Watershed Property Owner's Association and Saginaw Area Storm Water Authority (SASWA) to collect baseline data will help facilitate implementation of a watershed stewardship plan addressing problems such as sedimentation, bacterial contamination, impaired fisheries, and excess nutrients such as phosphorus.

Under the leadership of SVSU Chemistry Professor David Karpovich and Delta College professors Kristopher Nitz and Jacob Vanhouten, students from the departments of Biology, Chemistry, and Geography at both SVSU and Delta have monitored 22 river sites for nutrients, dissolved oxygen, bacteria, and other water quality indicators. The data have been compiled and summarized by the Cluster's undergraduate stewardship liaisons into a report submitted to the property owners association, the storm water authority and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

The community-based environmental partners benefiting from this information had high praise for the service-learning partnership, emphasizing the essential role that students from both campuses had played in helping them to meet regulatory requirements, including freeing up staff time to devote to other areas of regulatory compliance that would otherwise have received far less attention.

Through Dr. Karpovich's efforts, such contributions to the improvement of water quality on the Kawkawlin River will continue. Thanks to a $26,185 grant to SVSU from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), environmental service learning opportunities on the Kawkawlin River are expanding. Work will now focus on northern sections of the river and examine why that area fails to meet Michigan water quality standards for dissolved oxygen, a key factor in the health of local fish populations. Professor Karpovich acknowledges the role that affiliation with the GLISTEN project has played in making this next step possible:

While we've worked together informally in the past, GLISTEN has played a key role in helping faculty at SVSU and Delta College develop a true partnership focused on Saginaw Bay related issues. The partnership has enabled sharing of both resources and faculty expertise which has in turn expanded undergraduate service learning opportunities within our watershed. The data resulting from the cluster's Kawkawlin River activities made possible the development of the proposal for additional research that was funded by the Michigan DEQ.

For more information about environmental service-learning activities of GLISTEN's Saginaw Bay Watershed Collaborative Cluster, contact Dr. David Karpovich at or GLISTEN Project Director Glenn Odenbrett at