Covert, Michigan

Lake Michigan Water Intake, Pump Station

Project Description

Innovation was key to enhancing Van Buren State Park’s natural beauty and supplying a utility company with a necessary water system.

Most visitors at peaceful Van Buren State Park probably don’t know how much is going on under their feet. Every day, up to 8 million gallons of water are quietly and efficiently drawn through an intake in Lake Michigan and channeled beneath the park to Covert Generating, a natural gas power plant one mile inland in Covert Township. The plant also returns mineral–rich residual water from its cooling towers back into Lake Michigan.

When looking to build its plant, Covert Generating retained Prein&Newhof to recommend a suitable location for its intake; to design the intake, pump station, and piping system; and to oversee the construction.

Covert Generating chose to construct two infiltration beds at its intake with the capacity to draw in 10 million gallons a day. The water drawn from an infiltration bed is so high in quality that Covert Generating doesn’t have to treat it before using it as cooling water. (The first infiltration bed in Michigan was designed by Tom Newhof in 1968, for the City of Ludington. Since then, 5 other infiltration bed water intakes were added to Lake Michigan — 4 of them were designed by Prein&Newhof.)

The majority of the 1.5–mile pipeline between the plant and the lake was laid with traditional trenching methods. But the first 2,400 feet — from the intake under Lake Michigan and a row of 60–foot high dunes, to the pumping station in Van Buren State Park — relied on directional drilling as its only viable option. Trenching through the dunes was impossible, as it would have disrupted the beach’s fragile ecosystem.

This project is one of the longest directional drills below a lake ever undertaken in the United States — 1,000 feet between the pump station site and the shore, and another 1,400 feet under the lake bottom.

To save excavating costs, the system’s pump station was installed using a method called caisson construction. This involved sinking the station’s 60–foot–high cylinder in place underground, and excavating below it to reach the intakes pipes, which had been drilled to end directly underneath the pump station. “It’s a specialized and sensitive thing to install 2,000 feet of pipe from 1,000 feet out in Lake Michigan back onto the shore, keeping it in the right place and at the right elevation,” said P&N Construction Observer Ken Thompson.

Throughout the project, Covert Generating and Prein&Newhof worked to maintain a good relationship with the surrounding communities. Although Covert Generating paid for the design and construction of the intake and pump station, the system is operated by the City of South Haven — giving the City an opportunity to use the remaining 2 million gallons per day that the system can provide.

As part of this project, Covert Generating also replaced the State Park’s rest room with a modern, handicap–accessible facility; constructed the pump station where the park’s maintenance building used to be so that to beach–goers, the pump station looks like just another park building; and helped to fund a bike path on the route dug for the pipeline, connecting the park with the Kal–Haven Trail.


Mark Prein, PE
Project Manager


Honorable Conceptor Award for Engineering Excellence, Michigan Society of Professional Engineers (MSPE) & American Council of Engineering Companies of Michigan (ACEC/M), 2005

Project of the Year (Environmental over $10 million Category), American Public Works Association (APWA), Michigan Section, 2005