Research

Boardman River Restoration Research

Au Sable has conducted six years of stream research on the Boardman River to assess the impacts of dam removal on stream recovery. We have conducted this research largely supported by our own funds, the Adams Chapter of Trout Unlimited and, for the last two years, the Boardman Dam Removal Implementation Team. Our research team has made some significant findings over this period of time. First, we have established a baseline of information on the macroinvertebrate community for future study to be compared against. Second, we have confirmed that, for most of the stream channel, the dominant organisms are indicative of high water quality. Only a few locations can be found where human impacts can still be described as quite negative (e.g., North Branch in Kalkaska). Third, we have demonstrated that reservoirs can have a negative impact on the typical riverine biota (e.g., pre-drawdown conditions above Brown Bridge Pond and Boardman Pond). And, finally, over a five year period, we have found that there has been significant recovery of the macroinvertebrate community to a more natural state at the newly formed riffle site located above the Cass Road Dam following the drawdown. Our research is on-going and will assist local, state, regional, and global decision-making in demonstrating the effect of dam removal on stream recovery and restoration.


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Board River Watershed

The 188,800-acre Boardman River Watershed is located in portions of Kalkaska and Grand Traverse counties. From its origin in the Mahan swamp near Au Sable, its flow in its 179 miles of channels is generally westward to its mouth at the base of the west arm of Grand Traverse Bay in Traverse City. Much of the river is a state-designated Natural River and classified as a "Blue Ribbon" trout stream. Where it has natural river designation, special land use rules apply in order to protect the integrity of the system. Its high quality is also maintained by the fact that 55% of the watershed is forested, with much of that protected from development because it is owned by the State of Michigan. Only about 25% of the watershed is utilized for agricultural or urban uses. The Boardman is vital to Grand Traverse Bay in that the river contributes 30% of surface inflows to the bay.

The Boardman is fairly typical of a number of northern lower Michigan rivers in that it: is groundwater driven; has a largely forested and rural watershed covered with sandy glacial till; and most of its precipitation enters the stream as groundwater. Thus, it has a stable discharge and excellent water quality. These factors mean that it supports a healthy aquatic food web which at its apex supports a good trout fishery. On the negative side, it is still recovering from past abuse from the logging era and road construction following European settlement. These disturbances have sent large quantities of sand into the river, and, because it rarely floods, the sand doesn’t naturally flush out. Thus, it appears of even more high quality than it actually is because the sand suppresses the insects and other lower food web organisms so that the Boardman, and most of these other streams, do not actually support as many trout as they could. While it is a great stream, it could be even better ecologically.

Research Projects To Date

2013

Christian Hayes, Cedarville University - "Effects of Reservoir Drawdown on Riffle Macroinvertebrate Communities"

In 2007 Keystone Pond, a reservoir behind the Boardman dam, Boardman River, Grand Traverse County, Michigan, USA was drawn down in preparation for dam removal. The objective of this study was to quantify the effects of drawdown on benthic macroinvertebrate riffle communities by comparing a downstream site in a newly formed channel to an upstream control. Since 2008 a total of 2338 macroinvertebrates have been sampled and identified to the lowest practical taxonomic level. Data were analyzed using Chi-Square goodness of fit tests, Simpson’s Index of diversity, and Sørensens' Quotient of Similarity. We found that macroinvertebrate communities in the new channel have recovered to a more natural condition and show increasing similarity to the upstream control site.

Mentor: Dr. David Mahan, Au Sable Institute, Great Lakes Campus

Download: Poster | Presentation | Paper

David Petry, Bethel University - "Response of Boardman River water temperature and insect communities and to dam removal"

Dam removal is becoming a common technique to restore streams to a more natural state. Few studies have looked at the effects of removing hydroelectric dams on macroinvertebrate communities or on stream temperature. The Boardman River, Kalkaska and Grand Traverse Counties, Michigan, USA, has four dams, three are scheduled for removal. The objective of this study was to examine the benthic insect communities and stream temperature regime (1) as a baseline prior to the removal of Brown Bridge Dam, (2) following a drawdown of the reservoir (Brown Bridge Pond), and (3) following the deconstruction of Brown Bridge Dam. Water temperature has been recorded hourly since May 2011 using data loggers. We determined that the dam increased downstream water temperature (~3°C) during summer months and slightly decreased temperature during winter months. Although not immediate, downstream water temperature following the dam removal has started to mirror upstream temperatures. We sampled macroinvertebrates during the early summers of 2011, 2012 and 2013. Following the reservoir drawdown, metrics for macroinvertebrate communities (%EPT, EPT/C, sensitive:tolerant taxa ratio) increased downstream of the dam and became more similar to upstream sites. In 2013, following the dam removal, increased sediment in downstream reaches resulted in decreased habitat quality and thus insect metrics. This study provides meaningful information for short-term effects of the dam removal. Continued monitoring will enhance understanding of long-term effects. 

Mentor: Dr. David Mahan, Au Sable Institute, Great Lakes Campus

Download: Paper

2012

David Petry, Bethel University -- "Effects of Keystone Pond drawdown on riffle macroinvertebrate communities"

In 2007, Keystone Pond, the reservoir behind the Boardman Dam on the Boardman River in Grand Traverse County, Michigan was drawn down due to safety concerns about the integrity of the dam. The objective of this study was to determine whether the newly formed channel (Lone Pine) has returned to a natural state as compared to an upstream control site (Shumsky Road) using macroinvertebrate indicators. Since the drawdown five years ago, macroinvertebrates have been annually collected and identified to the lowest practical taxonomic level. The data were analyzed using Simpson’s Index of Diversity and Sørensen’s Quotient of Similarity. We determined that while the newly formed riffle channel had recovered to a more natural state, the macroinvertebrate communities are still changing and not yet comparable to the upstream control site.

Mentor: Dr. David Mahan, Au Sable Institute, Great Lakes Campus

Download: Presentation | Paper

2011

Michelle LaForge, Wheaton College -- "A Benchmark Macroinvertebrate Analysis of the Boardman River Prior to Dam Removal"

In the late summer of 2012, the Brown Bridge Dam on the Boardman River in Traverse City, Michigan will be removed. The objective of this study is to provide a benchmark of current macroinvertebrate populations to aid in the restoration processes that will occur after dam removal. Three riffle sites were sampled using a stratified sampling technique. The macroinvertebrates collected were identified to genus level when practical and were subjected to Shannon’s diversity index and Morisita’s similarity index. In total, 2,662 macroinvertebrates were collected and identified. Analysis showed the site below the dam having the highest degree of species richness and diversity. When the sites were compared, the two upstream sites showed a high level of similarity, while the downstream site showed a high degree of differentiation.

Mentor: Dr. David Mahan, Au Sable Institute, Great Lakes Campus; Dan Ippolito, Anderson University

Download: Presentation | Paper

Jacob Boone, Spring Arbor University -- "A Comparison of Stream Health Based on Aquatic Macroinvertebrate Assemblage Above and Below a Future Dam Removal Site on the Boardman River, Michigan"

Mentor: Dr. David Mahan, Au Sable Institute, Great Lakes Campus

Download: Presentation | Paper

2010

Thomas McElrath, Covenant College -- "Stream Quality Survey of the Upper Boardman River, Northern Michigan, Utilizing Benthic Macroinvertebrates"

This study aimed at determining stream quality, using an analysis of benthic macroinvertebrates, at nine different sites along the upper Boardman River system (Grand Traverse and Kalkaska Counties, Michigan). Sampling protocol and metric analysis followed GLEAS Procedure 51 established for evaluating Michigan streams. Results were compared to three previous sampling studies conducted at the same sites, especially a 2004 study. A minor, but noticeable, overall decline of stream quality was found for the upper watershed, most likely due to local causes. However, the stream is still high quality, with one “Excellent” site and eight “Approaching Excellent” sites. One site, in downtown Kalkaska, showed significant decline, most likely caused by human activities, and further testing and restoration is recommended at this site.

Mentor: Dr. David Mahan, Au Sable Institute

Download: Presentation | Paper

Nathan Sather, Bethel University -- "Riffle Community Recovery After Reestablishment of a Swift River Channel Following Reservoir Drawdown at the Boardman River, Traverse City, Michigan" 
(Winner of the Undergraduate Paper of the Year, Minnesota Academy of Sciences)

The purpose of this study was to characterize the macroinvertebrate community and observe differences between two undisturbed riffles (Shumsky Site, Boardman Acres Road Bridge), and a newly developed riffle at the head of the old reservoir (Lone Pine Site). Additionally, samples were compared with those taken in similar studies in 2008 and 2009 to determine the amount of recovery in the reestablished river channel at the Lone Pine Site. Macroinvertebrates were identified to lowest possible taxonomic level and distinguished by morphospecies.
Each of the three sites were found to be taxonomically similar in their macroinvertebrate community composition. A total of 864 individuals were identified. Shumsky (undisturbed site) had 31 observed morphospecies, the Boardman Acres Road Bridge site (undisturbed) had 32 morphospecies, and the Lone Pines (recovering site) had 36 morphospecies. A comparison of the recovering site with the undisturbed, natural sites using Sørensen’s Quotient of Similarity indicated that the recovering Lone Pine Site was similar in regards to community structure. Additionally, rank abundance curves, indicated similarity in relative species abundance, evenness, and richness. Results from this study suggest that three years after the Boardman Dam reservoir was drawn down, the recovering Lone Pines site has returned to a “natural state” in regards to invertebrate community structure.

Download: Presentation | Paper

Mentor: Dr. David Mahan and Dr. Garrett Crow, Au Sable Institute, Great Lakes Campus

2009

Nathan Sather, Bethel University -- "Recovery of the Riffle Community in the Boardman River as a Consequence of Reestablishment of a Swift River Channel Following Reservoir Drawdown at the Board River, Traverse City, Michigan"

The Boardman River is a groundwater fed stream that meanders through Michigan’s Grand Traverse and Kalkaska Counties. The Boardman and Sabin dams are two of four dams that impede the Boardman’s flow and due to safety concerns are in the process of removal. The Boardman Dam Reservoir was lowered 17 feet in 2007, resulting in the reestablishment of river channel upstream. Research has indicated that dams negatively affect stream ecosystems by increased sedimentation and alteration of natural habitat. The purpose of this study was to characterize the macroinvertebrate community and observe differences between an undisturbed riffle (Shumsky Site), a newly developed riffle at the head of the old reservoir (Lone Pine Site) and at a riffle below a dam (Sabin Dam Site). Additionally, samples were compared with those taken in a similar 2008 study to determine the amount of recovery  in the reestablished river channel at the Lone Pine Site. Macroinvertebrates were identified to lowest possible taxonomic level and distinguished by morphospecies. Each of the three sites were found to be taxonomically distinct in their macroinvertebrate community composition. Shumsky had 35 observed morphospecies, Lone Pines had 25 morphospecies, and Sabin Dam had 43 morphospecies. A comparison of the recovering site with the undisturbed, natural site using Sørensen’s Quotient of Similarity indicated that the Lone Pine Site has not fully recovered, but showed a considerable increase in similarity (40%) in contrast to the 2008 analysis (17.8%).  Additionally, an improvement in richness of indicator species was observed. 

Mentor: Dr. David Mahan, Au Sable Institute, Great Lakes Campus

Jacob Meier, Calvin College -- "Diversity of Macroinvertebrates in Differing Substratum Types at Three Sites in the Lower Boardman River, Michigan"

The diversity of the macroinvertebrate communities of different microhabitat types was characterized at three different sites along the Lower Boardman River, Michigan.  Three sites along the Boardman River including an undisturbed site, a naturally recovering site, and a site just below an impoundment were sampled.  Samples were taken from up to five habitat types, depending on availability, at each site; the habitat types included a riffle area, sand, macrophyte bed, bank margin, and organic area.   A biodiversity inventory of all macroinvertebrate taxa collected was compiled, which consisted of 377 individuals representing 108 different taxa.  As demonstrated by other studies, the undisturbed and dam sites showed the riffle microhabitats to be the most diverse, but this was not true within the recovering site. A chi2 test for independence also showed that microhabitats at the recovering site were not significantly independent, suggesting that macroinvertebrate communities in unstable streams such as the naturally recovering stream site in this study, may be made up of species that are less habitat specific than those in more stable streams.

Mentor: Dr. David Mahan, Au Sable Institute, Great Lakes Campus

2008

Jane Louwsma, Calvin College – “Response of the Macroinvertebrate Community to the Reestablishment of the Channel of the Lower Boardman River, Michigan”

Mentor: Dr. David Mahan, Au Sable Institute, Great Lakes Campus