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The Grand River Watershed

If you live in the Greater Lansing region, you live in the Grand River Watershed!  At 262 miles, the Grand River is the longest river in the State of Michigan with its headwaters near Jackson and its mouth in Grand Haven.  It's the State's second largest watershed (next to the Saginaw River watershed), comprising 13% of the entire Lake Michigan drainage basin and draining 5,572 square miles throughout 15 counties (grandlearningnetwork.org)

The Grand River was known as "O-wash-ta-nong" or "Far Away Water" to the Native Americans who lived along its banks.  It was an important trade route for them, and later, the river helped fuel the fur and timber trades of early European settlers. Read an account of British Fur trader Hugh Heward's trip on the Grand and across Michigan in 1790 here.

Today, the land use of the Grand River watershed is approximately 53% agricultural, 27% urban, and 20% forested.

Learn more about the history, water quality, and species of the Grand River with the Grand River Assessment produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.   

The Grand River watershed is divided into 3 management sections: the Upper (in red), the Middle (green), and Lower (blue) on the map above. The Middle Grand River watershed includes the Lansing area and several major tributary watersheds such as the Red Cedar, Looking Glass, and Maple River watersheds. 

These watersheds are broken down further for regulatory purposes. Since the NPDES stormwater program only covers "urbanized areas," Census data is used to determine which communities require coverage under an MS4 permit to discharge stormwater.  The urbanized area expands every ten years (following the Census) and prompts the participation of new communities or additional parts of currently permitted jurisdictions. See the map for the urbanized boundaries of the Grand, Red, and Looking Glass River watersheds.  Communities within the highlighted area require MS4 permit coverage. 

Greater Lansing Urbanized Area

Urbanized Watersheds

Of Greater Lansing

Population (2016): 118,256

Political Jurisdictions: 13
Land Area: 93,622 acres

Wetlands: 8,586

Miles of Rivers and Streams: 325

Grand River Watershed

(Urbanized only)

Looking GLass River Watershed

(Urbanized Only)

Population (2016): 54,792

Political Jurisdictions: 14
Land Area: 80,290 acres

Wetlands: 16,070

Miles of Rivers and Streams: 183

Red Cedar River Watershed

(Urbanized Only)

Population (2016): 170,304

Political Jurisdictions: 15
Land Area: 105,629 acres

Wetlands: 13,967

Miles of Rivers and Streams: 225

REd Cedar River Watershed

As discussed above, the Red Cedar River is a major tributary of the Grand River.  With headwaters in southern Livingston County, it runs just over 50 miles through farm land, downtowns, and Michigan State University's campus before meeting the Grand River in downtown Lansing.  Compared to presettlement, the Red Cedar River watershed landscape contains 90% less forest cover and 60% less wetlands.  Today, it supports a variety of land uses though agriculture accounts for 35%.   The entire watershed (not just the urbanized as noted above) drains 294,496 acres, or 461 square miles. 

Want to get involved in the protection of the Red Cedar River watershed? Check out these groups!

Looking Glass River Watershed

The Looking Glass River flows 71 miles from northern Livingston County to the "City of Two Rivers", Portland, where it flows into the Grand River.  Its watershed drains approximately 80,000 acres, includes 183 miles of rivers and streams, and has 900 acres of lakes.  Since presettlement, it has lost 80% of forest cover and 75% of its wetlands.  

Today, agriculture accounts for much of its land use, with 36% of land being used as crop land and 14% for pasture. 

Want to get involved in the protection of the Looking Glass River watershed? Check out these groups!

Maple River Watershed

The Maple River runs 74 miles, beginning near Owosso before flowing into the Grand River at the Village of Muir.  It's estimated that half of the water that flows through its watershed is from groundwater, with the other half coming from surface runoff.  

Due to direct bedrock exposure, the River's water is high in minerals and has created the only known salt marsh in Michigan.  The watershed includes the Maple River State Game Area, a 9,252 acre state protected game area that is the state's longest contiguous wetland complex. 

Want to get involved in the protection of the Maple River watershed? Check out these groups!

Watershed Management Plans

Watershed Management Plans are resources used to address water quality issues by understanding the attributes of the watershed and identifying pollution threats.  They document impaired areas for restoration and high-quality areas for protection, outlining an action-oriented approach.  Learn more about Greater Lansing watersheds by reviewing their management plans.

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The GLRC is supported by the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission
3135 Pine Tree Rd. Suite 2C, Lansing, MI 48911