A Treatment Plant's Settling Ponds Create an Attraction for Birds — and Bird-Watchers

A rural Michigan treatment plant near Lake Huron attracts an abundance of birds and waterfowl to its settling ponds – along with visitors carrying binoculars.

A Treatment Plant's Settling Ponds Create an Attraction for Birds — and Bird-Watchers

A North Huron Birding Trail sign marks the Clark Township Wastewater Treatment Plant as a designated observation area. 

The Clark Township Wastewater Treatment Plant has nearly 1,000 users in Michigan on the north shore of Lake Huron. With an average flow of 150,000 to 250,000 gpd, the facility serves the towns of Cedarville and Hessel, along with inhabitants on two of the Les Cheneaux Islands, a popular resort destination.

The settling pond treatment system lies 2 miles north of Cedarville on 20 acres, surrounded by more than 200 acres of a township-owned forest of pine, cedar, spruce and hardwoods. The ponds attract abundant wildlife, especially birds.

“It wasn’t always like that,” says Jim Landreville, plant superintendent. “Several years ago, no one knew we were here. Then a retired college professor began watching the birds attracted to the plant. Now we are a designated birding location on the North Huron Birding Trail.” 

Bird-watchers can see sandpipers, bitterns, killdeer, pileated woodpeckers, osprey, terns, sapsuckers, ducks, herons, common loons, geese and more. The woods attract migrant flocks of warblers, flycatchers and swallows. Deer are common, and occasionally a bear shows up.

Built in 1972 to serve 300 users, the plant has been expanded to include two 1.5-acre aeration ponds near the headworks and three settling ponds, each more than 8 feet deep and covering 4 to 6 acres. A surge in maintenance costs and difficulty in repairing aeration equipment installed in 1990 led the plant team to investigate an alternative solution. In 2015, a Lake Savers aeration system was installed.

An air compressor (Mink from Busch Vacuum Pumps and Systems) at each storage pond feeds 11 lake-bottom bubble diffusers. The inlet aeration ponds are similarly equipped with compressors and air-mixing units. Effluent is discharged during spring and fall into a nearby creek, which flows to Cedarville Bay and into Lake Huron.

A 4-foot-high security fence outside the berm of each pond surrounds the plant. A 50-foot buffer of grass lies between the fence and the forest, and a 10-foot- wide dirt road circles the buffer area to provide easy access for bird-watchers.

Clark Township’s year-round population of 2,500 doubles in summer, when the most bird-watchers arrive. Each August, the population jumps to more than 10,000 when the town of Hessel hosts the Les Cheneaux Island Antique Wooden Boat Show. “It’s one of the biggest antique boat shows in the nation, and that really brings in the visitors,” Landreville says.

The gate to the plant is open all year so that visitors have easy access to the ponds. Each spring, a high school biology teacher brings students to learn how the ponds work and to take effluent samples for classroom study. “We’ve never had a problem with visitors,” Landreville says. “We welcome them so they can watch the birds, as long as they don’t bother anything.”


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