See also: About the
Our Watershed FAQs are designed to inform
you, our readers, whether you are a "lakie", "townie", or "fudgie."
You are all important to our Watershed. Consequently, these FAQs and answers are
the most important part of the CLWA Web site. The FAQs have been created to
- About watersheds, in general, and,
- About the Crystal Lake Watershed, in particular.
- What the CLWA is doing specifically
to protect the integrity of the Crystal Lake Watershed.
Our answers to several questions FAQs in
five categories are intended to help educate riparian owners, nearby property owners,
and visitors. Definitions, features, qualities, issues, and activities that collectively
represent a watershed are outlined. Important issues and concerns need to be recognized,
understood, and acted upon based upon past, present, and future needs for proper
here for interesting FACTS about
the Crystal Lake Watershed.
1. What is a watershed?
John Wesley Powell, scientist geographer,
put it best when he said that a watershed is: "That area of land, a bounded
hydrologic system, within which all living things are inextricably linked by their
common water course and where, as humans settled, simple logic demanded that they
become part of a community."
2. How is a watershed defined?
There are two ways to define a
watershed. One way is to include just the land around the Lake, i.e. the land
that sheds runoff (rain water and snow melt). The preferred way is to include
both land and water, since precipitation falls upon both surfaces. Another way to
a watershed is to describe its morphology, the form and size of streams and
3. Where is the Crystal Lake watershed?
The Crystal Lake Watershed is located
in Benzie County in Northwest Lower Michigan. Benzie County is the smallest county
in Michigan. It is south of Leelanau County, west of Grand Traverse County, and north
of Manistee County. Looking at a left-handed mitten palm down, Benzie County is above
the first knuckle on the "pinkie" finger. The global position of the center
of the Lake is at 44.659167 N Latitude; -86.156389 W Longitude.
4. Is the Crystal Lake Watershed connected to other watersheds?
The Crystal Lake Watershed, containing
17 sub-watersheds, is contiguous to the Platte River Watershed to the North, but
is actually part of the Betsie River Watershed to the South. Both of these larger
riverine (river) watersheds are in turn parts of the much larger Lake Michigan Watershed
to the West. Crystal Lake is an "embayment" lake, i.e. it was once part
of a large bay of historical Lake Michigan.
5. What is the nature of the Crystal Lake Watershed?
The Watershed contains, Crystal
Lake, which is surrounded by steeply wooded bluffs, remnants of the last ice age.
It is separated from the famous Point Betsie Lighthouse on Lake Michigan by sand
dunes and forested hills. It contains parts of three townships around the Lake (Benzonia,
Crystal Lake, and Lake); parts of three other townships (Homestead, Inland, and Weldon)
are drained by Cold Creek. The Villages of Beulah and Benzonia are near the East
End of Crystal Lake. The City of Frankfort and the Village of Elberta are near the
West End of Crystal Lake (just over the hills), but are actually in the Betsie River
6. How deep is Crystal Lake?
The maximum depth of Crystal Lake
is about 165 feet. Its mean depth is 70.70 feet.
7. What is the area of Crystal Lake?
The surface area of Crystal Lake
is 15.4 square miles (9,854 Acres), making it the 9th largest inland Lake in Michigan!
The total area (land plus water) of the Crystal Lake Watershed is 43.67 square miles
(28,145 Acres) - not especially large compared to other watersheds in Michigan. What
makes the Crystal Lake Watershed unique is that the surface of the Lake is about
35% of the total Watershed (land + water) - an unusually high percentage.
8. What is the perimeter of Crystal Lake?
The perimeter of Crystal Lake is
20.838 miles, the perimeter of the entire Watershed is 44.650 miles. The longest
reach (greatest distance from shore to shore) is 8.11 miles.
9. How much water is in Crystal Lake?
Crystal Lake contains a lot of
crystal clear water, almost a quarter of a trillion gallons (242,000,000,000 gallons,
or 740,000 Acre-ft, or 0.22 cu miles). If this large volume of water were spread
evenly over all of Benzie County (assuming it was flat and the water didn't soak
into the ground), it would cover the land to a depth of 3-8, or just about head-high
for a five-year-old!
10. What is bathymetry all about?
Yet another view of a watershed
is to look beneath the surface of a lake on a hydrographic (bathymetric) map
that shows contour lines of the water at different depths. The closer the contour
lines for different water depths are together, the steeper the drop-off into deeper
water. There is a long deep trench through the center of Crystal Lake where water
depths exceed 150 feet (~ 50 meters).
11. What is topography all about?
Still another view of a watershed
is to look above the surface of the lake on a topographic map, which shows
contour lines at different elevations of the land. The hills around most of Crystal
Lake make it unique among Michigan lakes. The highest hills (ridges) around Crystal
Lake are about twice as high as the Lake is deep.
12. Why is It called Crystal Lake?
Because of its unique morphology
among Michigan lakes a relatively small watershed with a relatively small land-to-water
ratio surrounded by wooded hills with a low level of development, runoff of fine
sediment that causes turbidity (cloudiness) is limited. The water clarity
is exceptional hence the name, Crystal Lake.
13. What are some of the features of the Crystal Lake Watershed?
The Crystal Lake Watershed includes
many diverse ecological features: the Lake, tributaries, wetlands, high ridges, and
sand dunes. The Trapp Nature Preserve is located in the wetlands area of the Watershed.
The Railroad Point Natural Area encompasses some of the high ridge area. The Pt.
Betsie Dunes Preserve contains unique dune ecology. The Sleeping Bear Dunes National
Lakeshore overlaps into part of the Watershed. The Crystal Lake Outlet flows into
the Betsie River Watershed which includes ecological features of river wetlands and
Betsie Bay connected to Lake Michigan.
14. What was the Tragedy of Crystal Lake?
In 1873 an ambitious but ill-advised
project was put through in an effort to connect Crystal Lake and Lake Michigan with
a navigable channel to facilitate the floating of logs to the lumber markets. Unfortunately,
the difference in elevation between the lakes was not recognized and the Lake level
dropped dramatically some 20 feet.
See also The "Tragedy" of Crystal Lake on our About the Watershed page.
15. What was the result of the Tragedy?
The drop in Lake elevation exposed
a flat strip of sandy beach around the Lake, which is now filled with single-family
cottages. This shoreline perimeter (almost 21 miles, and part of the annual Crystal
Lake Team Marathon of 26 miles) is an unique feature of Crystal Lake.
16. What Is the current elevation of Crystal Lake?
The level of Crystal Lake is set
by law at 600.25 feet above mean datum in the Summer and 599.75 feet above mean datum
in the Winter (+/- three inches). The level is controlled by the Outlet Dam. The
higher level in the Summer provides more water for boating and other activities.
The lower level in Winter provides protection against wind and ice damage.
17. What Is the elevation of Lake Michigan?
Lake Michigan is a much larger
lake. Its level rises and falls with season and climate, but is typically about 20
feet lower than Crystal Lake.
aerial photos of Crystal Lake and Lake Michigan.
18. What Is the Character of Living?
The character of living within
the Watershed is predominantly rural with single-family housing. The area is frequented
by local residents, riparian owners, and vacationers.
19. What are the land and water uses?
Land and water uses within the
Watershed are predominantly recreational, with some fruit farming and light manufacturing.
Drinking water is supplied by wells; wastewater is treated by septic systems.
20. What is hydrology?
Hydrology is the science that deals
with the occurrence, circulation, distribution, and properties of the waters of the
earth and its atmosphere.
more about the Hydrology of Crystal Lake & Lake Michigan.
21. What does a drop of water do in the watershed?
It passes from a vapor in the atmosphere
through precipitation (rain and snow) onto the land and water surfaces, and
ultimately back into the atmosphere by evaporation from water surfaces and
by transpiration from trees and other plants. The total of evaporation + transpiration
is called evapotranspiration.
22. Where does the water of Crystal Lake come from?
Water falls onto the Lake directly
as rain or snow. It can also enter indirectly as surface water runoff flowing downhill
from the surrounding land or from tributaries, including the major tributary, Cold
Creek. Surface water can also percolate (seep) into the ground and flow downhill
toward the Lake as groundwater (underground sources).
23. Where does the water of Crystal Lake go?
Water from the surface of Crystal
Lake can evaporate into the air. Water can also exit underground as groundwater to
Lake Michigan. Surface water from Crystal Lake overflows into Outlet Creek, a tributary
of the Betsie River, which flows into Betsie Bay and on into Lake Michigan at Frankfort,
24. What is water quality all about?
Water quality is a measure of the
condition of water for various uses - drinking, swimming, fishing, etc.
25. How is water quality defined?
Water quality is defined by the
measurement over time of physical, chemical, and biological parameters on samples
of water and sediment, and microscopic plants and animals.
26. What Are water quality parameters?
- Physical Clarity (or turbidity),
temperature, conductivity, and oxidation/reduction.
- Chemical Dissolved oxygen (DO),
acid/base (pH), nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus), hardness, alkalinity, and other
- Biological Phytoplankton (microscopic
plants), zooplankton (microscopic animals), benthic invertebrates, aquatic macrophytes
(large plants), and fish.
27. What is the current water quality of Crystal Lake?
The water quality of the deepwaters
of Crystal Lake is excellent as measured by all parameters - water clarity, nutrient
levels, etc. It is an extremely oligotrophic lake, i.e. its water has very
low levels of nitrogen and phosphorus nutrients, that in excess promote the growth
of plankton and aquatic weeds. Some differences in the nearshore regions (where people
spend their time) are occasionally noted depending upon the winds and waves, and
the time of the year.
28. What is the immediate and long-term future for the Watershed?
The Watershed has passed from a
pre-settlement stage, through the logging era, and is now well into a recreational
phase. As the Watershed continues to be a mecca for travelers and retirees, it faces
the demands and implications of increased development.
29. What is watershed management?
Watershed Management is a process
of making informed decisions based on the uses and modifications of lands and waters
within a watershed. The process is an opportunity for all stakeholders to balance
their often competing uses for limited environmental resources, and to consider how
their cumulative actions may affect long-term sustainability of these resources.
30. How is our Watershed impacted by human activity?
Human modifications of lands and
waters directly alter delivery of water, sediments, and nutrients, and thus fundamentally
alter aquatic systems. Effects of over-development can result in deterioration of
water quality, land value, and the quality of life.
31. What is Environmental Sustainability?
can be defined as meeting the demands of the present without compromising the future.
It usually deals with many factors - nature, economy, society, etc. It is not so
much about maintaining life precisely as it is at one point in time. It is more about
controlling the rate of change, and maintaining equity between generations. It is
a continually evolving process. See also: Sustainable Development (Crystal Lake Watershed
32. What is the greatest concern
for our Watershed?
The greatest concern for our Watershed
is the increased development of our valuable natural resource. Changes in land use
ultimately affect water quality unless proper planning is done.
Please see our "Concerns
and Issues" page.
33. What is the Crystal Lake & Watershed Association, Inc. (CLWA)
The Crystal Lake & Watershed
Association, Inc. (CLWA) is a nonprofit (501c3) organization of concerned local
citizens and environmental professionals committed to protecting the integrity of
Crystal Lake, Benzie County, Michigan, for the enjoyment of future generations. We
invite you to join us and learn about what's needed now to help protect and maintain
our beautiful Crystal Lake.
34. What is the Purpose of the
CLWA's four-part purpose
- Protect and promote the natural
qualities of Crystal Lake and its surrounding Watershed.
- Preserve for future generations
the beauty and recreational resources of Crystal Lake and its watershed.
- Engage in water-quality monitoring,
educational programs, promotion of harmonious land development, and promotion of
the safe use of Crystal Lake.
- Advocate and ensure the continued
aesthetic beauty and environmental integrity of the Lake and its watershed.
35. How did the CLWA come to
The CLWA is a merger of
two former organizations:
- Crystal Lake Watershed Fund, Inc.
- Crystal Lake Association (CLA).
36. Who makes up the CLWA?
Membership in the CLWA is
open to everyone. It includes both permanent riparian owners and part-time summer
residents, local citizens, and visitors to the Watershed.
37. What are the activities of the CLWA?
The CLWA conducts activities
in four areas: Water Quality, Education & Communications, Zoning and Land Use,
and Development. The CLWA interacts with other organizations in cooperative
environmental studies, educational programs, watershed management, and financial
QUALITY - See our Web page
& COMMUNICATIONS -
See our Web page
& LAND USE - See our
DEVELOPMENT - See our Web page
The CLWA supports the development of alternative treatment units for wastewater,
and its predecessor organization, the Crystal Lake Clean Water Committee was instrumental
in the passage of a landmark ordinance regulating septic systems. The CLWA
works with and supports local zoning boards, builders, and land owners to promote
and follow responsible land use to ensure that future development will not harm the
unique and desirable qualities of Crystal Lake. The CLWA has assisted in obtaining
land gifts (which may be tax deductible) to the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy
in their efforts to preserve the quality of our lands and waters by retiring desirable
land from future development.
38. What do I need to know about local ordinances that affect the Watershed?
Ordinances are a means of defining
certain activities within a watershed community. Local regulations control land use,
construction activities, soil erosion, vegetation cutting, and septic systems. The
Crystal Lake Overlay District is specifically designed to address areas within the
Crystal Lake Watershed.
Please see Health & Environmental Regulations for details.
39. What can I do to become better informed about our Watershed?
Everyone, regardless of where they
live, work, and play, is intimately connected to a watershed. Concerned citizens
can learn about watersheds from many available sources. Please feel free to use the
information available on our site, and the many links to other information.
40. What can I do to protect our Lake and its Watershed?
Everyone, regardless of where they
live, work, or play, is intimately connected to a watershed. The privilege of living
in our Watershed carries with it the joint responsibility to use its land and water
wisely and conserve them for future generations.
41. What can I do to help educate the public about the Watershed?
We are the public. Please share
your personal needs and concerns with others throughout our Watershed. Become active
in local issues affecting the quality of life within our Watershed. We must assume
the responsibility for our Watershed for the privilege of being a part of it.
Manual for the Crystal
is designed to be both an Educational Primer for Students and a Reference Handbook
for Property Owners and Visitors. (add link) It includes information on how to be
a good citizen of our Watershed.
We are the public. Please share your personal needs and concerns with others throughout
the watershed. Become active in local issues affecting the quality of life within
Please feel free to contact the CLWA (at the address at the top of the page) if you
have further questions or comments.
Glossary of Limnogical Terms with links to other glossaries.
Webbook: "Understanding Lake Ecology - an Online Limnology
Primer," Water on
the Web, Natural Resources Res. Inst., Univ. Minn. Duluth, 2002,