Residents and business owners throughout the Grand Valley region likely may have reflected recently on Michigan’s nickname “water wonderland,” but the beauty of a land surrounded by the world’s largest bodies of fresh water is given depth of meaning by the people who live here.
Extraordinary efforts and accomplishments during the recent flooding of area rivers pale compared to what comes next, after the clean-up.
The many examples of good neighbors and local businesses that offered assistance were common not only in Grand Rapids but in Ada, Lowell, Jenison, Grandville, Wyoming, Newaygo, Muskegon and in neighboring Ottawa County. States of emergency were declared first in Ottawa County, then in Wyoming and Grandville, and lastly in Grand Rapids the weeks of April 14 and 21 as rivers crested above flood stage.
Hundreds of volunteers from throughout West Michigan showed up on a Saturday and Sunday morning to load sandbags to save “West Michigan’s downtown” from a river rising to a history-making level. That those volunteers referred to downtown as “my city” or “our city” was astounding, given the help needed elsewhere throughout the region, transcending any perceived quibbles over governmental boundaries.
The structural integrity of downtown buildings and flood walls successfully held back a flood of historic proportions — a milestone that must be given its due. Should the Grand River have broken those barriers, the entire region would have felt the impact.
The fact that very little overflow of water and sewers was reported (other than the retention pond at the wastewater treatment plant on Market Avenue) is remarkable, too, especially to those who recall the sewage overflows sent via the Grand River to Grand Haven’s Lake Michigan shore in previous decades. Mayor George Heartwell remarked on radio station WLAV that the overflow had been measured at just 0.4 percent of previous situations that did not include the tremendous historic flood levels of 2013.
The mission most immediately before the affected communities as the water recedes is that of a tremendous clean-up. Those efforts should be etched in the minds of residents and business owners as an everyday awareness of the impact this region has on all its waterways.
West Michigan Environmental Action Council uses as its “poster child” an aerial photo of the Grand River releasing a huge plume of river water into Lake Michigan at Grand Haven under ordinary circumstances — and now also an April photo of the river emptying its muddy flood waters and debris into the deep blue water of the lake.
WMEAC Executive Director Rachel Hood has commented that the drama of the last few weeks helps underscore the understanding for continuing storm-water management improvements in communities throughout the Grand River watershed. From the WMEAC website, Hood calls for a stronger partnership among these communities, ever neighborly during a crisis.
The strength of the April 2013 efforts should continue to focus on the protection of — and affection for — our Great Lake.