Michigan is blessed with an abundance of water above and below the ground. Every drop of water that falls from the sky has the potential to contribute to the vast quantities of water that will flow into one of our Great Lakes. Water drops from rain are collected and stored in watersheds.
Watersheds are simply an area of land where all of the precipitation flows to a small stream which then flows downslope into a bigger stream or river. A network of streams and rivers that flows to a larger river system will eventually end up in one of the Great Lakes. Michigan has 86 major watersheds. The longest watershed in the state, the Grand watershed, is 260 miles long. The largest drainage basin is the Saginaw River watershed which is approximately 8,709 square miles.
Michigan has 26,266 inland lakes throughout the state that are greater than one acre in size. The largest lake is Houghton Lake, which is 20,044 acres and has over 30 miles of shoreline. The Great Lakes has a shoreline of 3,288 miles. About 40 percent of the major rivers in the state flow into Lake Superior, 35 percent flow into Lake Michigan and 25 percent flow into Lake Huron and Lake Erie.
There are about 120 major rivers in Michigan. The total miles that these rivers cover is about 36,350 square miles. To put this in perspective Michigan has more square miles of rivers than the states of New Jersey, Connecticut, and the combined miles of Delaware and Rhode Island in total square miles.
Why is this information important? What we do on our land does not just affect us. It also affects those downstream in our watershed as well as those who are in the surrounding watersheds. What we do eventually has an impact on one of the Great Lakes.
Michigan’s water system is vast and intertwined with each other. Programs such as the Michigan Sea Grant is a collaborative effort between Michigan State University and the University of Michigan, works to help Michigan residents better understand the relationship between the Great Lakes and those who live and work within its boundaries.
For more information on water and the water cycle and ways that you can protect our valuable resource please read Understanding the water cycle is key to protecting Michigan’s vast water resources by Bindu Bhakta. You can also download The Home*A*Syst Guide (WQ-51) which will help assess your potential for environmental risks in and around your home. It is available through the Michigan State University Extension Bookstore.
This article was written by Christina Curell for Michigan State University Extension. For more information, visit http://www.msue.msu.edu. To contact an expert in your area, visit http://expert.msue.msu.edu, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).