New Groundwater Board to address aquifer challenges in Ottawa County

by | Mar 23, 2021 | Department of Strategic Initiatives, Groudwater, Planning

Scientists, officials, community stakeholders tapped for new
Ottawa County Groundwater Board

WEST OLIVE — Momentum is crucial to any project. When a 2018 study by Michigan State University revealed declines in the quality and quantity of Ottawa County’s deep bedrock aquifers, County officials took immediate action by developing the Groundwater Sustainability Initiative. Now, at its meeting on March 23, 2021, the County Board of Commissioners is building on that early momentum by establishing the Ottawa County Groundwater Board. The new, 15-member advisory body will provide policy recommendations and help develop regulatory standards to protect and conserve this vital resource.

“Our aquifer challenges are unprecedented in this state. Bringing this diverse group of professionals together is essential to the overall success of the plans laid out in our groundwater issues remediation guidebook, the Proactive Strategies Index.”

Paul Sachs
Planning & Performance Improvement Department Director


Featuring a cross-section of industry leaders, scientists, and local officials, the Groundwater Board is robustly well-rounded with professionals who will help guide the County’s efforts to effectively manage its precious groundwater resources into the future in collaboration with the County’s Planning & Performance Improvement Department.

The County also anticipates creating, pursuant to Bylaws of the new Board, a separate Groundwater Technical Advisory Committee. This committee, comprised of field experts, will provide technical and logistical assistance, and help diagnose and solve unique challenges for residents, developers, and businesses alongside the Planning and Performance Improvement Department.

“Working in conjunction with Department Land Use Planners, Technical Advisory Committee members will be our policy and advisory ‘boots on the ground,’” said Sachs. “They will help with water conservation techniques, technologies, and methods on a hyper-local, sometimes individual basis. Being that groundwater conditions can vary widely from location to location, it’s important we tailor our recommendations to these local conditions.”

About the Groundwater Sustainability Initiative

Nearly half of all Michigan residents rely on groundwater sources to supply their homes and businesses; Ottawa County is no exception. Following anecdotal reports of low water pressure and damaged crops from salty water, Commissioners requested a water study be conducted. A two-part, in-depth study of Ottawa County groundwater by Michigan State University revealed 1) levels in the deep bedrock aquifer system have been declining for 20 years and in certain areas sodium chloride (salt) levels are rising above recommended standards, and 2) these issues will continue if proactive steps are not taken to manage withdrawal rates.

To tackle this local water crisis, the Planning & Performance Improvement Department spearheaded the creation of the Groundwater Sustainability Initiative, a partnership with local scientists, policymakers and stakeholders to develop a plan for practical solutions to protect Ottawa County’s groundwater supply. The mission: To ensure residents and stakeholders have permanent and reliable access to fresh water for reasonable use. Through educational outreach in schools and the community at large, partner-managed programs that offer tips and promote changes in water use habits, policy changes within local units of government, and inter-departmental coordination within the County, we are making water conservation a priority in West Michigan.

For more information on Ottawa County’s groundwater issues, visit

Meet the Water Board

“Each of these individuals graciously agreed to serve the County in this important, critical undertaking,” said County Administer Al Vanderberg. “This amalgam of officials, experts, and stakeholders will guide us to a sustainable future.”

Members include:

  • Greg DeJong, County Commissioner, District 8
  • Matthew Fenske, Vice Chair Commissioner, District 9
  • Adam Elenbaas, Supervisor, Allendale Charter Township
  • Kevin Peters, Supervisor, Blendon Township
  • Alan D. Steinman, Ph.D, Allen & Helen Hunting Director & Professor, GVSU Annis Water Resources Institute
  • John A. Yellich, Director, Michigan Geological Survey
  • Steve Hecksel, Proprietor, Hecksel Bros. Well Drilling, LLC
  • Megan Boos, Executive Director, Ottawa Conservation District
  • Dale Buist, Owner, Countryside Greenhouse
  • Travis Williams, Chief Executive Officer, Outdoor Discovery Center
  • Angela Brown, Director of Facilities Management, Ottawa Area Intermediate School District
  • Dale Zahn, Chief Executive Officer, West Michigan Lakeshore Association of Realtors
  • Patrick Staskiewsicz, Public Utilities Director, Ottawa County Road Commission
  • John Truscott, Chief Executive Officer, Truscott Rossman
  • Dave Kraker, Retired (Kent County Environmental Health)

Stay Connected with Ottawa County!

Sign up for emails or text alerts and receive updates from Ottawa County.