Hillsdale County - Birthplace of Five Headwaters
Of the 83 counties in Michigan, only Hillsdale County contains the headwaters of five major watersheds. A watershed is an area of land that catches rain and snow and is drained by a system of wetlands, streams, lakes, ponds, and rivers. Besides being a great source of surface water to provide a recharge of the groundwater to Hillsdale County’s many wells, it’s hardly surprising that the approximately 350 ponds and 42 lakes in the county also serve as headwaters for those five watersheds.
One of the headwaters in Hillsdale County is that of the River Raisin. It begins in Goose Creek in a marshy area of Jerome in Somerset Township in northeast Hillsdale County, flowing northeast to join the River Raisin just south of the unincorporated community of Somerset Center. The total length of the creek is about 12 miles and covers an area of about 40 square miles. Of all the sub basins within the River Raisin watershed, Goose Creek has maintained the largest share of wetlands and maintains the lowest levels of pollutants.
There are headwaters for two St. Joseph Rivers, which can be confusing. To make it easier to understand, one is also called the Maumee River. It’s about 86 miles long and drains a primarily rural farming region in the watershed of Lake Erie. It has two branches, both originating in Hillsdale County. One begins in Deer Lake and travels through Lost Nations. The second begins in Bankers Lake/Lake Wilson and has several branches. This is the biggest watershed of all the Great Lakes draining into Lake Erie.
The other of the two St. Joseph Rivers is locally called the St. Joe River and empties into Lake Michigan. Beginning at Baw Beese Lake, it’s about 206 miles long and also drains a primarily rural farming area. It drains into Lake Michigan at both St. Joseph and Benton Harbor.
The main stream of the Grand River watershed begins at Lake LeAnn and drains into Lake Michigan at Grand Haven. Of the pesticides in Lake Michigan, 22% come from this river. It flows about 260 miles and drains an area of about 5,570 square miles.
The final major watershed that has its headwaters in Hillsdale County is the Kalamazoo River. There are two branches of the Kalamazoo River watershed. The south branch begins not in a lake, but somewhere in a field between North Adams and Moscow. It flows north and west through Homer before joining the North Branch at the forks of the Kalamazoo in Albion. The Kalamazoo river goes to Lake Michigan, passing through Kalamazoo on the way, where paper manufacturing was once big. Waste from this industry is highly toxic and water treatment facilities to detoxify it expensive. In the past the solution was for the factory to save its waste to dump into the Kalamazoo River twice a year, paying the fine for doing so and saving the money it would not spend on adequate water treatment.
Farm and industrial pollution, as well as the introduction of invasive species of plants and fish, threaten the health of the rivers of Michigan and thus the Great Lakes. We need to help preserve our waters because our live depend on it.
JoAnne P. Miller
(Most of this information came from Wikipedia. The graphics of the watershed areas are also from that website.)