Michigan Sea Grant
Restoring Natural Flows in the Clinton River Watershed
The 80-mile long Clinton River in southeast Michigan has its headwaters in rural and urbanizing areas and then flows through heavily urbanized sections of southern Oakland and Macomb counties before eventually draining into Lake St. Clair. Although water quality in the Clinton River has improved over the last 30 years, the river faces a number of environmental challenges, including extreme fluctuation of water flow.
Twenty one separate impoundments - or dammed lakes - along the upper reaches of the river interrupt natural flows and block fish movement within the watershed. A majority of the lakes created by the impoundments have a court-authorized water level that is set independently of other lakes in the system and the downstream receiving waters. When lake control structures at the impoundments are adjusted, the result is a sudden, drastic reduction of water flow in the river. Although regulatory agencies are legally required to make these water level adjustments, the resulting abrupt changes in river flow adversely impact fish and wildlife habitat as well as recreational opportunities. Additionally, the presence of the impoundments puts many constituents on opposite sides of the issues; residents often have contrasting opinions about lake level control depending on where they are located in the watershed.
Below is a figure of the Clinton River Watershed: