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Lenawee County. We believe it’s the greatest county in Michigan. That’s why we continue to invest in a wide range of county programs and services to make this the best place to live in Michigan. Investing in our communities. Investing in our citizens. Investing in You.

Dec 04

Lenawee’s Most Important Natural Resource: Water

Posted on December 4, 2019 at 4:22 PM by Jennifer Ambrose

The human body can go weeks without food, but only about 3 days without water.  Access to clean and safe water is something we often take for granted.  It is vital for drinking, recreation, sanitation, hygiene, industry, and agriculture.  It is our most precious global resource. 

Life in Lenawee depends on the water cycle, which is also known as the hydrologic cycle and includes our ground and soil.  The Agricultural industry requires clean, healthy water to grow our food so ensuring that we are being intentional in preserving this valuable resource is vital to the continued success of our communities.

Developing Lenawee

When the first settlers came to Lenawee County they found a well-watered land due to the lakes and rivers that abound. As they began working and tilling the land, the need became evident to establish a drain system.  After all, a flooded field does not produce good crops. 

farmer from turn of the century in Lenawee County feeding chickens

(photo credit: Larry & Joan Gould, whose family helped develop our early agriculture industry in Lenawee County)

Parts of our county were also covered with wetlands and marshes. The southeastern part of our county was part of the Great Black Swamp. As the demand for more tillable land grew, Lenawee County established the first county drain in the state of Michigan.

In 1847, three men (from the township of Dover, the village of Adrian, and the village of Tecumseh) were approved to establish a drain that would access four townships. The Lenawee County Drain Commission was established to maintain and expand on this new infrastructure that would expand with the population growth in the County.

The Dust Bowl

In the 1930s, a severe drought and high winds led to a weather phenomenon named The Dust Bowl.  Eroding soil from poor farming and conservation practices led to massive dust storms that blew east from the Great Plains to New York City.  The impact on the economy of the United States was devastating and intensified the effects of the Great Depression. 

picture of a dust storm from the dust bowl overwhelming a town
(image source: earthobservatory.nasa.gov)

In response, the federal government created the Soil Conservation Services (SCS).  It was a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) entity placed in counties across the nation to focus on soil conservation.

“Local farmers did not want to be told best practices on agriculture from a national perspective.  That was one of the reasons they established the local conservation districts.  The local districts could lay out the local issues for the USDA staff,” explained Tom Van Wagner, Field Technician for the Lenawee County Conservation District.

Lenawee Conservation District

The Lenawee Conservation District (LCD) was established in 1946 with a mission to guide the local conservation process to protect the soil and water resources and provide education and technical assistance to ultimately create a balanced environment.

Upon its establishment, the LCD developed best practices in agriculture for soil conservation and implemented programs with the help of Lenawee County farmers.  The initial focus was on learning more about the source of erosion that caused massive devastation during the Dust Bowl.  Resulting conservation practices included planting tree windbreaks, refining tilling practices, and introducing cover crops.

Since then, the focus of LCD has shifted to additional soil conservation methods such as keeping nutrients in the ground and reducing the runoff in water that drains from the field. 

“The conservation district here in Lenawee County is focused not just on soil but also on water.  We are looking to see what landowners in the County can do not only for the betterment of their property but also the surrounding area,” stated Lindsay Garrison, District Manager of the Lenawee Conservation District.


illustration of water cycle in Lenawee County

Farms need irrigation to grow bountiful crops and they receive that irrigation in Lenawee from two primary sources:  precipitation (rain, snow, etc.) and direction irrigation from their water source (wells that pull from the aquifers underground).

The aquifers recharge from precipitation that drains through the ground.  Runoff from the fields goes through the ditch system that was put in place by our ancestors (and is maintained today by the Lenawee County Drain Commission).  From there, the drains lead to the River Raisin on the east side of the County and Bean Creek on the west side.  Bean Creek joins the Tiffin River which flows into the Maumee River at Defiance, Ohio.  Both the River Raisin and the Maumee River empty into the western basin of Lake Erie.

map of the Maumee River basin showing the Bean Creek watershed

map of River Raisin watershed

(photo:  Bean Creek Watershed

(photo: River Raisin Watershed)

The Maumee River meets Lake Erie in Toledo and the River Raisin meets Lake Erie in Monroe.  Although Lenawee County isn’t directly connected to Lake Erie, what we do here in Lenawee affects the Great Lake.

The Lake Erie Algae Bloom was first noticed in the 1960s.  Algae blooms are formed by bacteria that is produced from nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, iron) and thrives in warm, shallow waters like the western Lake Erie basin.  The blooms produce dangerous toxins that are poisonous to humans, fish, livestock, and pets – causing illness, organ failure, or death.

Many municipalities get their water supply from Lake Erie, including Toledo.  In 2014, the city of Toledo lost access to this as a water supply due to the dangerous conditions caused by the algae bloom.  Their water supply was immediately halted, leading to a water crisis.  Upgrades were made to the processing plant and they developed backup plans to get water directly from the Maumee River but that has caused additional expense and processing problems.

One enterprising Ohio resident has proposed the idea of selling water to western Toledo residents from his water pipeline.  The pipeline sources water from the Michindoh Aquifer, the very aquifer that Lenawee County drinking and irrigation water comes from in the western half of Lenawee County.

“One of the issues with this idea of pumping water outside the aquifer but not putting it back is that it could create an imbalance in the natural water cycle,” stated Van Wagner. “It’s all related to rainfall and recharging. The amount we take out of that aquifer as well as how long it takes to recharge. This will affect our Lenawee County residents if it happens.”

Lenawee Farms

Lenawee Farmers are deeply connected to the soil and conservation.  They understand the impact that their farming practices have on Lake Erie and are leading the way in making changes to improve the situation.

“Lenawee County farmers have recognized that farming practices contribute to the algae bloom in Lake Erie.  We also have sewer drainage and other industry runoff, but our farmers acknowledge the part they play,” stated Garrison.  “Together we are collaborating to address the issue.”

Lenawee County farmers have been diligently working to reduce their impact through new conservation practices.  The positive results can be seen in the most recent aerial algae bloom maps.
Lake Erie satellite map

“The District has worked very closely with landowners to implement conservation practices to reduce that impact and it’s visible from satellite imagery when you look at the mouth of the River Raisin versus the Maumee River,” said Garrison. “Most of our farmland drains into the River Raisin Watershed.  There is a difference in the amount of sediment coming from those two tributaries.”

Lenawee continues to lead the way in applying for and receiving USDA funding, grants, and other County funding for new studies and practices in soil conservation.  Some of the current grants include:

  • Saturated Buffer Project
diagram of a saturated buffer
  • Blind Inlets
  • Drainage Water Management
Diagram of drainage water management
  • Filter Strips
diagram of tile system
  • Nutrient Management Practices

“We’ve recently received grant funds to do some newer and more innovative nutrient management practices with farmers,” explained Garrison.  “With the new funds, we are trying some new equipment on small and large farm operations to help with placement of the nutrients and measuring the effects on both the yield and the nutrient drainage into Lake Erie.”

garrison and van wagner check the gates on a drainage system in Lenawee

Garrison and Van Wagner check on some of the new equipment in place on Sunrise Farms, Inc., owned by Jim and Laurie Isley and their son Jacob.

Four Reasons This Is Important to Lenawee

How do farming practices, aquifers, algae blooms, and conservation impact Lenawee County residents on a day to day basis?

First, this has a direct impact on the water we get from the tap in our houses and businesses.  Whether it’s well water or water from a local municipality – it all comes from the same source and is part of the water cycle.  Water is very expensive to procure from other areas as residents in Toledo have discovered.

Second, this has a direct impact on the food we eat.  Soil conservation practices have the added benefit of increasing the yield for Lenawee County farms.  In the State of Michigan, Lenawee County is the leading producer of corn, the second leading producer of wheat, and a top ten producer for many other crops. 

Third, since agricultural is one of Lenawee County’s largest industries, the success of our farmers directly affects the economic success of the rest of the county.  Research shows that each farmer’s business is very closely tied to eight other local small businesses. 

Finally, as the business economy flourishes, it pours back into our local government through tax revenue.  With higher business tax revenues, the burden on the personal property owner to fund mandated government services is reduced.  If these revenues were to decline, the burden on citizens taxpayers would increase.

“Agriculture is the greatest and fundamentally the most important of our industries. The cities are but the branches of the tree of national life, the roots of which go deeply into the land. We all flourish or decline with the farmer,” stated Bernard Baruch, an advisor to President Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt. 

Lenawee County’s rich agricultural history combined with today’s innovative conservation approaches can help our communities remain a leader in agriculture production and protect our water sources for many generations to come.  To learn more about soil conservation, visit the Lenawee Conservation District.


Oct 29

Building a Trauma-Informed Business in Lenawee

Posted on October 29, 2019 at 12:21 PM by Jennifer Ambrose

Why Training Your Employees to Become Trauma-Informed Benefits Your Bottom Line


trainIt may seem like the opportunities for staff training are endless.  Whether they are mandated by law, critical for operations, or further the educational opportunities for your employees, it can be difficult to balance the need for training with the workload needed to keep your business running.  Training your staff on becoming trauma-informed may seem like something you could skip or put off until next year – but it is worth another look.  This training could have a major impact on your employees, customers, and ultimately impact your revenue.


Adverse Childhood Traumas

acesAdverse childhood traumas (ACEs) are stressful or traumatic events, including abuse, neglect, or household challenges that occur before an individual becomes an adult.  The number of ACEs a person experiences strongly influences their development. 


The Lenawee Health Network researchers have discovered a correlation between ACEs and adult problems.  In Lenawee County, 15% of adults have experienced 4 or more ACEs.  That means 15% of your employees have experienced these issues.  Research shows that the conditions and behaviors of ACEs are often the same conditions and behaviors that lead to absenteeism, job problems, and other indicators of poor work performance.  Training their fellow co-workers and your management team on considering trauma when approaching problems, you can interrupt the connection between past trauma and current performance. 


This is not just limited to your staff.  This also means that 15% of your customers have experienced trauma that is affecting their behaviors as an adult.  Training your employees be to be trauma-informed will increase empathy, enhance safety, and ensure improved delivery of services. 


Benefits of Becoming a Trauma-Informed Business

empathyUnderstanding what others are going through creates empathy.  Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, to place oneself in another’s position.  


Empathy has many benefits to your business, but one of the most tangible, visible impacts is on an improvement in customer service.  Customers often just want to be heard and understood.  It doesn’t mean that you have to agree with every single thing that they are saying or give them everything they want, but customers will often walk away happy from an interaction if empathy is displayed, which will create brand loyalty.


Empathy also improves teamwork.  When team members empathize with each other, your team can solve problems like never before.  Disagreement, frustration, and ill feelings go away and are replaced with a synergetic cohesive unit that is focused on delivering results. 


Finally, empathy fuels innovation.  There are many studies today that highlight the correlation between empathy and innovation.  So much so, that the Cleveland Clinic has an entire conference devoted to the two to improve the patient experience.  CEOs from Microsoft, Warby Parker, and KIND are shifting their focus to empathy training for their employees because of the innovation that can grow out of an empathetic team.


How Does My Business Become Trauma-Informed?

assessThe first step to becoming a trauma-informed organization is to conduct an organizational assessment.  Lenawee County Mental Health Authority can assist you in conducting an assessment at no charge to your business.  An assessment is important to begin with because it gives you a baseline in which to track improvement over time.


The time it will take to complete an assessment will depend on the size of your business, internal team members available to help complete the assessment, and your organization’s schedule. 


Regardless of the size of your organization,  becoming trauma-informed will better your business and would be an important investment that will return your investment of time many times over.


Contact LCMH at 517-263-8905 or visit us online for more information or to schedule an organization assessment.
Oct 29

Maurice Spear Campus Provides a Fresh Start for Troubled Youth

Posted on October 29, 2019 at 10:39 AM by Jennifer Ambrose


The Maurice Spear Campus was named for its founder, former Lenawee County Probate Judge Maurice Spear, who first conceived of the idea of creating a county youth facility after he was elected in 1960. The MSC consists of two different programs: a detention unit that houses up to 26 kids and an open unit that can house up to 40 kids.


The detention unit is a secure facility for kids who have committed a crime and are required to remain in the facility under a court order. The detention unit stays can vary from one day to one year. The program provides education and enrichment groups to help get kids back on track.


“We try to make an impact by helping the kids understand the poor choices they are making and what the consequences are,” explains Rodney Weaver, Director of the Maurice Spear Campus.


The open unit employs a more therapeutic and rehabilitative approach. It is designed for kids who’ve had repeated admissions to the detention unit and have not responded to other types of interventions in their home or community. Admission to the open unit is based on an order from the Juvenile Court. The typical stay in the open unit lasts from 9 to 14 months.


“The open unit has much more family involvement. We provide individual and family counselling. And the kids go to school right here on campus. They have chores and responsibilities,” explains Weaver. “They also have involvement in the community and do volunteer work.”


Having an open unit means the doors are not locked. The kids know that they are there under a court order, but they can also leave the campus to participate in community activities. They can earn more opportunities based on positive behavior.


“In the open unit, we can focus our attention on the kids that need help and want to get help, and their families,” explains Weaver. “The program is a commitment. The more the kids buy into it, the more successful they will be.”


The MSC employs youth specialists who work with the kids every day and remind them to brush their teeth, take a shower, and do their homework. Those basic tasks create the foundation for positive habits for the youth and creates stability in their lives


The youth specialists also coordinate schedules and provide transportation for the kids. “Our staff are constantly driving kids all over town and making sure everyone gets where they need to be,” explains Weaver. “More importantly, they show the kids that there is someone who cares about where they are and what they are doing each day.”


In addition to the youth specialists, there are also licensed therapists who provide individual and family counseling that is essential for the kids to make positive changes in their lives.

On Campus School Helps Kids Get Caught Up


Kids also attend school during their stay at the Maurice Spear Campus. The school is staffed with five teachers from the Lenawee Intermediate School District (LISD). Many of the kids have fallen behind in school and are not meeting the standards for their age and grade level. One of the goals for the teachers at the MSC is to make sure the kids get caught up.


One of the primary benefits of the on-site school is the small class sizes, which means that kids receive more individualized attention. All of the teachers from the LISD are used to working in groups that include different ages and skill levels. The teachers are also cross trained to cover multiple subjects. The personalized instruction can help the kids learn to appreciate school in a different way. It reignites their passion for learning.


“This year, we had four students graduate from high school and two of them were also accepted into Sienna Heights University,” says Julie VanBlack, Regional Supervisor at the Lenawee Intermediate School District. “We try to make sure the kids leave here with an education and job skills that will allow them to move forward in their lives in a positive way.”


Another unique program is the partnership between MSC and Goodwill Industries. The program with Goodwill Industries is all about job training. Any of the kids in the open unit have an opportunity to meet with the staff at Goodwill to discuss their interests and find out if there is a job that would be a good match. They start off working at Goodwill one afternoon per week, and if it works out, they can increase their hours to two evenings per week. 

“They work in the retail stores or the in the distribution center getting items sorted for the stores. It provides great real-world experience for them,” explains Weaver. “They are paid on a debit card and can use that income for whatever they need to buy. It teaches them responsibility.”

In addition to the partnership with Goodwill Industries, MSC has relationships with many individuals and organizations in the community that provide volunteer opportunities for the kids.


Volunteer activities can range from raking leaves in the fall for local senior citizens, to working at the Michigan International Speedway to help clean up on race day. The kids also help out local charities, such as the Michigan Humane Society. All of these activities help to build connection and increase self-esteem for the kids staying at the MSC.


“We are very thoughtful in the partnerships we choose,” explains Weaver. “We want to select activities that are positive and healthy for the kids to participate in, while also making a contribution back to the community.”

The Maurice Spear Campus is guided by an advisory Board of Directors that includes representation from cities and townships across Lenawee County. Many of the board members come from the educational system, including John Springer, a retired teacher who has served on the board since 2008.


“As board members, we are dedicated to helping the program achieve its goals,” says Springer. The board has helped to raise funds for program improvements, and they provide financial support for the partnership with Goodwill Industries. They also support special events for the staff and residents, as well as funding scholarships to colleges or trade schools for program graduates.


“It’s hard to say where these kids might end up without these services, but probably not in a good place,” explains Weaver. “It is easy to go down the wrong road. Our program provides structure and guidance to help these kids make better decisions.”