Groundwater Management & Wellhead Protection

With only 1% of the water on Earth being useable, the majority is groundwater, making it one of our most valuable but under-appreciated natural resources. Groundwater is used for drinking water by more than half of the people in the U.S. and is especially essential in the Greater Lansing area, where it makes up 99% of our drinking water resources. We recognize the importance of groundwater quality and lead a variety of efforts to address its management and protection in our region.

The Groundwater Management Board

Since 1982, Tri-County has hosted the Groundwater Management Board (GMB) to discuss policy matters, land use, and/or water development projects that may have a potential impact on groundwater resources and management in the region. The GMB's mission is to provide a multi-jurisdictional forum for coordination and cooperation to help assure adequate quantities and qualities of groundwater are available to meet regional needs.

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Wellhead Protection Viewer

In partnership with the GMB, Tri-County also maintains a Wellhead Protection Viewer (WPV). This interactive online mapping application provides a variety of data – including well locations, time of travel areas, potential contamination source locations, brownfields, and more – to municipalities so they can be better informed when making development decisions that may affect our region's groundwater resources. For additional information or technical support, please contact us.

Past Projects

For the last 25 years, Tri-County and the GMB have been recognized as a Groundwater Guardian by the Groundwater Foundation for our efforts in groundwater protection. Throughout our agencies’ history, Tri-County and the GMB have coordinated to provide in-kind support, staff resources, and/or funding for a variety of projects, events, and outreach activities to promote groundwater research, stewardship, and informed decision-making, and educate residents and community leaders about their role in protecting this valuable resource. Read on to learn more about our project history, or visit the GMB webpage to get involved with our current efforts!

Ingham County Groundwater Survey

In 2018, the Ingham County Groundwater Survey project began as a follow-up to the Report on the Aquifer of Ingham County, which originally began sampling groundwater in 1981. The original survey, which sampled over 300 wells, analyzed the groundwater quality of all 16 townships in Ingham County. The goal of the survey, now complete, was to re-sample as many of the same wells as possible to determine changes in the composition of the county’s groundwater, educate well owners on well protection, determine future strategies for groundwater protection, and provide a framework to expand the project into Eaton and Clinton Counties. Photo courtesy of Garry Rowe.

Tri-County Water Policies and Programs Guide

Created in 2015, the Tri-County Water Policies and Programs Guide serves as an informational tool and guidance document for decision makers and residents of Clinton, Eaton and Ingham counties. Developed by bringing together experts within the community, this document provides information, program initiatives, and regulatory actions on groundwater, drinking water, land use, surface water, and wastewater for the urban and rural areas of the tri-county region. It identifies local water protection activities, policy and programming gaps, best management practices, opportunities for complementary activities, and recommendations and plans for long term sustainability that were established and agreed to by the organizations involved at the time of its creation.

Wellhead and Groundwater Protection Audit Tool

Created in 2011, the Wellhead and Groundwater Protection Audit Tool was developed to provide any community seeking guidance on their wellhead and groundwater protection strategies with a specific tool for evaluation. The auditing tool first examines a community's existing wellhead protection planning and implementation activities through an analysis of community documents, such as master plans, zoning ordinances, site plan review processes, and any other relevant plans or reports. This allows auditors to evaluate four important aspects of wellhead protection planning:

  1. the identification of goals and objectives for improving or maintaining groundwater quality;
  2. the identification of specific strategies that will allow the community to meet their stated goals and objectives;
  3. an examination of ordinances/policy pertaining to groundwater protections; and
  4. an analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to aid in the identification of barriers and to gauge room for improvement.

Wellhead Protection Programs

Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) Wellhead Protection Program assists local communities that depend on groundwater for their municipal drinking water supply systems by offering information and funding to help protect their water at its source. Through their Source Water Protection Grants, any element of a community's wellhead protection plan or activities may be eligible for funding. Both Tri-County and GMB have an important role in the application process for communities seeking this funding. Each year a portion of dues paid by GMB members is put toward the required project funding match, the GMB works with Tri-County as a clearinghouse to help administer the grant, and GMB assists in the completion or oversight of the grant project. Some projects created under this grant include:

  • Groundwater protection training series for local planners, engineers, and decision makers
  • Gap analysis studies on best management practices and long-term sustainability
  • Developing sources of readily-available water and environmental data for community access
  • Social media campaigns on groundwater education
  • A series of groundwater education presentations for policy and decision makers
  • Movie advertisements for local education on the value of groundwater
  • A permanent local groundwater display for children’s education at Impression 5
  • The creation and maintenance of the Wellhead Protection Viewer
  • Potential Contamination Source Inventory updates for Wellhead Protection Plans

Capital Area Groundwater Alliance

Established in 2000, the Capital Area Groundwater Alliance (CAGA) was comprised of Greater Lansing communities involved in wellhead protection and worked toward coordinating efforts on their wellhead protection programs, outreach, and projects. One of CAGA's primary goals was to establish a recognizable entity for wellhead protection efforts across multiple communities and to formalize their relationships and activities. CAGA served as a great educational resource for communities by creating programs like Tap into Groundwater Protection: A Training Opportunity for Lansing Area Business and the Abandoned Well Program, which focused on creating materials to educate homeowners about properly abandoning a well on their property. CAGA was awarded the Innovation Award by the Michigan Association of Regions for their approach to educating the public on groundwater issues.

Regional Aquifer Study

Conducted over two phases (as of 2020) the Regional Aquifer Study was led by GMB and Tri-County to determine the quality and quantity of water in the region’s aquifer system. Conducted by the United States Geologic Survey (USGS) across nine townships, the first phase began in 1991, when USGS created a detailed computer model of the aquifer system serving the tri-county region of Clinton, Eaton, and Igham counties, and used the model to delineate wellhead protection areas. In 2002, phase two of the study used improved technology to update and refine the computer model to provide a better representation of the regional aquifer systems.

Children's Water Festival

Created in 1995 with the goal of teaching children the value and vulnerability of water, the Children’s Water Festival was a regular event and feature of groundwater education in the region for over 20 years. The first festival saw over 1,000 children from schools around the tri-county area, offering attendees free entry and an interactive field trip for students to learn about the importance of our environment, water resources, and their role in protecting and conserving them. Following water festivals targeted 4th and 5th graders to better align with curriculm standards and help recruit future groundwater stewards. Though successful, the Children's Water Festival was an immense undertaking in fundraising, planning, and coordination with schools across the state, ultimately leading to a transition toward providing children's groundwater education activities as part of the MSU Science Festival and other local water education events.

Water Regionalization Study

In 1990, a study led by the GMB and Tri-County investigated the feasibility of developing a regional water system. Supported by 20 communities in the region, this study examined existing water infrastructure, predicted future needs into the year 2020, and projected five scenarios under which various communities could create shared water systems, resulting in significant monetary savings and system protections. After its completion in 1993, the study received an award from the Michigan Association of Regions for outstanding intergovernmental programs and ultimately lead to the formation of the Mid-Michigan Water Authority in December 1995.

Community Presentations & Knowledge Sharing

The GMB convenes many regional stakeholders who play an important role in the management and conservation of our groundwater. With the opportunity to host so many key organizations, communities, and agencies together in one place, Tri-County's meeting space serves as an excellent venue to share information and host presentations on the latest research, hot topics, and changes to regulations and procedures. The following is a list of the many knowledge sharing activities, working groups, and presentations facilitated by the GMB over the years:

  • Hosted Kaitlyn Kiessling of Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to present on the MiWell program
  • Hosted Tim Faas to give an overview of the MI WARN Program
  • Formed a working group on reviewing well abandonment, started by reviewing sanitary codes
  • Hosted the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) to speak to GMB members about the Source Water Protection Grant and its future status due to increased attention on PFAS in groundwater
  • Hosted Dr. Susan Masten of Michigan State University to give a presentation on lead and other groundwater contamination in Ingham County
  • Hosted Dr. Kurt Guter and his two high school students, Hudson Yiu and Luke Schafer, to present the results of a Williamston High School microplastics study
  • Formed the GMB Geothermal Working Group to advise on the drafting of EGLE’s statewide geothermal legislation
  • Hosted Lois E. Graham, R.S., M.S.A. of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to present on Michigan’s Statewide PFAS Sampling Effort
  • Hosted Mr. Tim Bowlin, Chief Financial Officer and Project Manager of the Michigan State Capitol Commission, to speak on his background and the geothermal project happening at the Michigan Capital Building
  • Co-signed Pariana Groundwater Discharge Permit Letter with Tri-County to EGLE

Letter of Recommendation: Michigan State Capitol Geothermal Infrastructure

With the passing of the 2017-2018 state budget, the Michigan State Capitol Commission began a project to upgrade the capitol building's infrastructure with a geothermal heating and cooling system. Due to the increased risks to groundwater resources, the members of the Groundwater Management Board (GMB) worked together to pen a letter of recommendations to the Michigan State Capitol Commission. As a result, many of the recommendations made by the GMB were taken into consideration for the project and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (now known as the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, or EGLE) appointed the GMB’s Geothermal Working Group as a stakeholder team to draft legislation on the matter.