A lake watershed is the land area that drains to a lake. The Hess Lake watershed is 9,336 acres, a land area about 12 times larger than the lake itself.
The Hess Lake watershed is drained by Alger Creek and the Wheeler Drain, as well as several small, unnamed tributaries. Historical Michigan Department of Conservation records indicate that, at one time, drainage from what is now the upper portion of the Wheeler Drain flowed east and south away from Hess Lake to the headwaters of the Rogue River. In the early 1900s, the drain was diverted to its present course substantially increasing the size of the Hess Lake watershed. Currently, the Wheeler Drain drains approximately 6,270 acres or about two-thirds of the watershed and is the largest source of water to Hess Lake.
In a federal grant application prepared by the Hess Lake Improvement Board in 1988, Wheeler Drain is described as follows:
"It is important to note that the south (upstream) portion of the Wheeler Drain has a low grade, is mostly runoff fed, and carries mostly fine particulate matter following rain fall events. The northerly portion (downstream) has a steeper grade, is less impacted by immediate runoff, has a significant base flow, and carries a substantial course particle load when flows increase."
Erosion along the lower stretch of Wheeler Drain has been ongoing for decades. The lower portion of the drain (north of 112th Street) has high, steeply sloped banks and no floodplain to slow the water during storm events and control erosion. The rerouting of Wheeler Drain in the early 1900s along with tiling and drainage alterations in the upper portion of the drain may be exacerbating erosion yet today. A large sediment trap at the mouth of Wheeler Drain is regularly inspected and cleaned out to prevent the transport of sediment and nutrients into Hess Lake.
Click here to view the 2022 Wheeler Drain assessment report that explains the management challenges associated with the drain.
Much of the upper portion of the watershed is agricultural while forest cover is more prevalent closer to the lake. Most of the development in the watershed occurs near the lake and currently about 400 homes border the shoreline.
Click here to view shoreland management guidelines for lake residents.