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WMU receives state grant to improve Asylum Lake water quality

by Jeanne Baron

Aug. 31, 2011 | WMU News

Photo of Asylum Lake Preserve in Kalamazoo.
Asylum Lake Preserve
KALAMAZOO--Restoration efforts at the Asylum Lake Preserve in Kalamazoo received a big boost recently, when the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality awarded Western Michigan University one of 11 water-quality grants totaling more than $3.2 million.

The grants support watershed planning and implementation projects aimed at permanently protecting and restoring Michigan rivers and wetlands. They allow local partners to identify and solve water quality problems, protect high-quality waters, and improve degraded waters.

WMU received the fourth largest grant--$393,845 over three years--to implement a stormwater treatment project that will improve water quality in Asylum Lake and, therefore, the West Fork of Portage Creek. The University is providing an additional $153,876 in in-kind matching funds to improve water quality in Arcadia Creek on its main campus.

In recent years, WMU's Facilities Management department has been a partner and matching funder in several other Clean Michigan Initiative and Clean Water Act grant projects on the University's various campuses, notes Jan VanDerKley, the University's vice president for business and finance.

Over the past two years, VanDerKley says WMU has successfully applied for a $482,000 grant to mitigate a stretch of Arcadia Creek from Howard Street to the University's Beam Power Plant as well as a $135,000 grant to create a large stormwater treatment system to handle a portion of WMU's West Campus and a $70,000 grant for stormwater management projects related to other sites on its main campus.

"The new DEQ grant is particularly significant," says Cari DeLong, WMU Facilities Management natural areas manager and coordinator of campus stormwater initiatives. "It allows us to build a comprehensive stormwater treatment system that will reduce the large volumes of nutrients and sediment that directly enter Asylum Lake and flow into Little Asylum Lake, producing harmful effects."

The 274-acre Asylum Lake Preserve is owned by WMU and managed by the University in conjunction with the communitywide Asylum Lake Policy and Management Council. Located on the northeast corner of Parkview Avenue and Drake Road, it is part of the Arcadia Creek-Portage Creek Watershed and the broader Kalamazoo River Watershed.

The preserve encompasses Asylum Lake and Little Asylum Lake and is open to the public as a passive-use recreation area under an agreement between the University and city of Kalamazoo. In addition to supporting research and education at all levels, the property is used for activities such as walking, running, cross country skiing, bird watching, swimming and fishing.

DeLong says water quality in both of the preserve's lakes is a concern due to heavy stormwater loads and eutrophication, a process in which water bodies receive so many nutrients that excessive plant growth occurs. That can decrease the dissolved oxygen in water, causing fish kills and other problems.

"A 2008 study commissioned by the Asylum Lake Policy and Management Council characterized both Asylum and Little Asylum lakes as eutrophic due to high levels of phosphorous, nitrogen and chlorophyll," DeLong reports. "These aren't closed systems. Asylum Lake flows into Little Asylum Lake via a connecting stream. So it's important to take a holistic view when managing them and their associated wetlands."

Following a recommendation in the 2008 study, WMU will focus its DEQ grant project on managing runoff from the West Towne Mall, a 17.5-acre commercial shopping area north of the preserve that discharges the single largest amount of runoff into Asylum Lake. To manage that runoff, the University will construct a treatment system to not only divert stormwater from the mall, but also remove heavy sediments and litter before infiltrating the stormwater into the ground.

The system will be built on a former trailer park property near Stadium Drive and Drake Road that is now controlled by the WMU Foundation. The foundation is an independent, not-for-profit corporation that provides financial support to WMU. There are no plans right now to develop the 6.5 acre property, but a portion of it has been set aside for possible future development. The Foundation is allowing WMU to use the remaining space for stormwater treatment.

With its matching funds, WMU will work to reduce stormwater runoff reaching Arcadia Creek, which passes through the main campus as it flows along Stadium Drive.

For additional details about stormwater management in the Asylum Lake Preserve, contact Cari DeLong at or (269) 387-8568.

For more information about the preserve, visit