The Grand River is an iconic piece of what makes Grand Rapids a great place to work, relax and get active. After decades of turning away from the river following the industrial revolution, we’re now turning back to the river.

With the help of the community, our partners are revitalizing the Grand River to ensure it remains a healthy, safe and vibrant resource for all to enjoy for generations to come.

In The River

Restoring the Rapids

Project leader: Grand Rapids Whitewater

When the City of Grand Rapids created the Green Grand Rapids plan, restoring the Grand River was a major focus. This vision was embraced by Grand Rapids Whitewater (GRWW). GRWW is a nonprofit organization formed in 2010 to lead the restoration of the City’s namesake “rapids.”

  • Removing five aging dams, including the Sixth Street dam, to reveal the regionally rare bedrock rapids in the upper reach of the project area currently submerged by the Sixth Street dam
  • Restoring the lower rapids and restoring a more natural river flow by installing boulders and substrate
  • Constructing a new operable structure at the upstream end of the project (north of Leonard Street Bridge) that provides increased public safety and flood control, prevents non-native Sea Lamprey from spawning upstream, allows fish passage and provides recreational benefits
  • Improving habitat for fish and other aquatic species by restoring historical spawning areas for threatened Lake Sturgeon, increasing opportunities for fish passage and connectivity, and improving the quality of habitat for federally endangered mussels

Improving Water Quality

Project leaders: City of Grand Rapids, Lower Grand River Organization of Watershed

The City of Grand Rapids has been measuring water quality in the Grand River since the formation of the Grand River Monitoring Network in 1968. Thanks to the City’s commitment to divert stormwater and avoid sewer overflows, the Grand River is cleaner than it has been in decades.

Monthly samples were collected at 100 locations along the river to establish parameters for water quality management. After a few years, the Network concluded that just monthly sampling of a few pollutants did not give them adequate information. A study was then initiated to establish a Water Quality Index (WQI) that would lead to a common understanding of water quality and be able to compare different bodies of water using this uniform method.

Since 1988, water samples have been collected at various spots along the river, measuring multiple variables, including pH, dissolved oxygen, and E. coli. These measurements are then put into a weighted equation, which gives a number between 1-100. The City’s Environmental Services Department has an online map showing the locations of the sampling points and the WQI. A marked improvement to the Grand River’s water quality was the investment of over 30 years and $300 million dollars to separate the sanitary and storm sewer systems. The graph below shows the combined sewer overflows before and after the wastewater plant expansion and the separation of the systems.

In addition, other communities upstream and downstream of Grand Rapids have also invested many millions, if not billions, of dollars to build or rebuild their sanitary sewer infrastructure to comply with state and federal mandates to improve water quality.

Water quality monitoring is currently being conducted by many groups and organizations. To collect and share this data, the Lower Grand River Organization of Watersheds (LGROW) has created a Data Repository. Groups are encouraged to submit their data on the site, which will then be reviewed for quality assurance, and added to the site. Both citizen science and professional data can be added, with both biological and chemical results displayed.

Visit the LGROW website.

Protecting the Ecosystem

Project leaders: Grand Rapids Whitewater, City of Grand Rapids
The Grand River is home to many different species that are critical to the health of the ecosystem. Native freshwater mussels are a big part of that, and many of them are threatened. The Snuffbox mussel is the only federally endangered mussel.
To make sure these important mussels stay safe during the projects, the City is working with Grand Rapids Whitewater to create a habitat conservation plan (HCP). The HCP will relocate the mussels, restore their habitat and monitor their recolonization.

Controlling Invasive Species

Project leader: Great Lakes Fishery Commission

Although there are many helpful native species that call the Grand River home, there are also destructive invasive species. One of the most destructive is the sea lamprey. Sea lamprey are parasitic fish that kill native fish in the Grand River.

With the changes happening in the Grand River, it’s important we prevent sea lamprey from travelling further upstream. As part of the in-river restoration projects, a new lamprey barrier will be constructed to replace the aging Sixth Street Dam. This ensures protection against invasive sea lamprey remains a top priority.

Along The River

Opportunity Sites

Project leader: City of Grand Rapids

In 2017, the City of Grand Rapids engaged the community through a significant public input process to envision a reinvigorated riverfront. The result of the public input was six opportunity sites along the Grand River that will eventually become home to recreation and public spaces for all to enjoy.

GR Forward

Project leader: Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc.

In 2015, Downtown Grand Rapids unveiled GR Forward, a community-driven plan that calls for transforming the Grand River into a distinct asset and supporting the next generation of growth downtown. The plan’s primary goal is to restore the Grand River and create a connected and equitable river corridor.