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Bear Creek Stewardship Plan - Executive Summary

THE BEAR CREEK WATERSHED PROJECT MANAGEMENT PLAN:
A STEWARDSHIP APPROACH TO PROTECTION, PRESERVATION AND RESTORATION

A. THE WATERSHED LOCATION:

The Bear Creek Watershed covers slightly more than 20,000 acres in northeastern Kent County, Michigan. Kent County is in the western portion of the state, approximately 40 miles from Lake Michigan. Grand Rapids, the second largest city in the state, is located here. The Bear Creek Watershed is a subwatershed of the Grand River Watershed and Bear Creek enters the larger river some 45 miles upstream from Lake Michigan. The area of the Bear Creek Watershed comprises about .60% of the total area of the Grand River Watershed.

B. MAJOR WATER QUALITY PROBLEMS IN THE BEAR CREEK WATERSHED:

The Bear Creek Watershed has experienced dramatic population growth in the past two decades. This residential and commercial growth has been superimposed upon an area whose prior uses had been agricultural and recreational. The water quality problems which currently exist are related both to the features of contemporary growth as well as to historical patterns of land and water use.

Two water quality problems are primary:

  1. Sedimentation
  2. Bacterial contamination, principally with fecal coliform organisms

These two primary problems are associated with a variety of interrelated factors, including but not limited to:

  1. Soil erosion from water and wind on unprotected fields, construction sites, and other vulnerable surfaces
  2. Stormwater runoff, particularly from increasing amounts of impervious groundcovers such as asphalt and concrete
  3. Removal of native vegetative cover and lack of replacement vegetation, particularly along the stream corridor
  4. Improperly installed or poorly maintained septic systems
  5. Improper disposal of animal wastes
  6. Public and private stormwater drainage systems that increase both the volume and velocity of the overland flow of water
  7. Destruction or damage to watershed wetland areas
  8. Historical and current practices of stream diversion, damming and channelization with associated disturbances of stream processes and fish migration
  9. Inadequate public knowledge base for dealing with complex water resource issues, despite a high level of public interest in appropriate water and land stewardship practices

In addition to the more easily recognizable problems of sediment and bacteria, several other agents including nutrients, biocides and airborne toxins pose at least a potential threat to surface and groundwater within the watershed. Limited evidence from previous well studies indicates nitrate levels have exceeded safe drinking water standards for groundwater at several locations in Cannon Township in the recent past (Kent County Health Department; Michigan Department of Health). Lake treatment histories also point to watershed lakes in high population areas experiencing nutrient loading from fertilizers, detergents, and human and animal wastes. Furthermore, water sampling in 1992-1993 has documented HEIGHTened levels of phosphates in Bear Creek (Grand Valley State University, Water Resources Institute, 1993). And, although no testing has yet been undertaken to determine the extent of water contamination resulting from the fallout of airborne toxins in Bear Creek, the potential impact of these upon water quality cannot be ignored. Clearly Bear Creek is impacted no less by toxic releases and emissions than any other subwatershed of the Grand River - and the impact of these chemicals and metals on the quality of the Grand River has been well-documented (Vail, GVSU Water Resources Institute, September 1993).

It is important to note that hypotheses that nutrients, pesticides, and toxins exist in and influence quality of waters in the Bear Creek watershed are based principally on tentative data. Each of these hypotheses requires additional information upon which to base ultimate rejection or support. It should also be underscored that efforts to explore the relationship between water quality and levels of nutrients, fertilizers, toxins - and even coliform - are confounded by the fact that current point source standards cannot easily be extrapolated to nonpoint source pollution.

C. IMPACTS OF WATER QUALITY PROBLEMS:

The impacts of the water quality problems noted above are many, complex, and obviously interconnected. Among them are the following:

  1. Degradation of surface and ground water, not only within the Bear Creek Watershed itself, but also for all points downstream, including Lake Michigan
  2. Increased threats to human, livestock, and wildlife health and well-being
  3. Decrease in the private and public recreational use and aesthetic value of the stream and stream corridor
  4. Loss of quality trout and other fish habitat in the creek, its tributaries and area lakes
  5. Degradation of the watershed as a significant habitat for diverse native wildlife and vegetative species, including threatened and endangered species
  6. Increased vulnerability to floods and mass movements of earth, including mudslides, streambank collapses, slope failure, and dam failure
  7. Increased pressure on citizens and public officials to allocate resources to preserve, protect and r restore water quality within the watershed

D. SPECIFIC THREATS TO WATER QUALITY TO BE ADDRESSED:

The specific threats to water quality in Bear Creek Watershed to be addressed by this management plan are those considered to be threats from nonpoint sources, that is, not identified with a specific, localized source. These threats include:

  1. Sediment from all sources, including croplands, livestock farms, orchards, stream and drain bank erosion, road-stream crossings, construction sites, and private residential yards and lawns
  2. Fecal coliform bacteria from livestock and human wastes
  3. Nutrients from fertilizer use as well as animal and human wastes
  4. Watershed residents', developers', and public officials' needs for appropriate educational information on water quality and natural resource management

E. OBJECTIVES OF THE MANAGEMENT PLAN FOR THE BEAR CREEK WATERSHED:

This management plan will outline and describe a variety of Best Management Practices (BMPs) to protect, preserve and restore the Bear Creek Watershed. These BMPs are directed toward the accomplishment of the following objectives:

  1. Significantly reducing the sediment entering Bear Creek from all non-point sources in the watershed
  2. Significantly reducing the amount of bacterial contamination from all nonpoint sources within the watershed
  3. Significantly improving the habitat for fish and other wildlife species within the watershed
  4. Evaluating the extent of nutrient and biocide loadings to surface and ground water within the watershed

In addition to the implementation of BMPs, a targeted public education and participation strategy will be utilized to inform and support individuals, groups, organizations, and public officials. The activities of the education and participation strategy will be directed toward the accomplishment of the following objectives:

  1. Educating residents, developers, and public officials about water quality concerns in the watershed
  2. Supporting opportunities for citizens, agencies and organizations to work together for protecting, preserving and restoring the Bear Creek Watershed
  3. Empowering citizens and public officials to participate in the protection, preservation, and restoration of the the Bear Creek Watershed's surface and ground water resources

F. IMPLEMENTATION METHODOLOGY OF THE BEAR CREEK MANAGEMENT PLAN:

This management plan approaches remediation of nonpoint water pollution through the utilization of a two-pronged approach which includes the implementation of BMPs as well as an aggressive and focused public education campaign. The BMPs are designed as site-specific remedies to problems identified in the planning phase of this project. The targeted educational effort and public participation plan are designed to provide information and support to the several special populations whose needs are most evident. These include streamside residents, farmers, fourth and fifth grade school children, residential developers and builders, and public officials.

G. THE COST EFFECTIVENESS FEATURES OF THE BEAR CREEK MANAGEMENT PLAN:

Cost effectiveness is an essential component of this plan. Attention will be directed toward the cost-benefit ratio throughout as specific BMPs and aspects of the public education campaign are implemented. The highest cost-benefit ratio (i.e., highest benefit at the lowest cost) will be sought. Specific strategies to accomplish such a ratio will include, but not be limited to the following:

  1. Implementing BMPs within identified critical areas where implementation will result in the greatest improvement in water quality
  2. Utilizing BMPs specifically designed for each site in accordance with established Soil 3.Conservation Service standards and specifications
  3. Prioritizing sites so that those contributing the most significantly to the degradation of water quality receive the most immediate and thorough attention
  4. Implementing a public education strategy which reaches the largest numbers of individuals, agencies and organizations in the targeted groups with the most appropriate information at the lowest per unit cost
  5. Implementing a framework of support for voluntary participation by citizens and public officials in water quality improvement activities as well as preservation and restoration efforts

H. TOTAL COST OF IMPLEMENTATION PROGRAMS:

A summary of the total costs to implement this management plan is as follows:

Public Program $ 662,820
BMP Program $1,212,849
Staffing and Related $ 399,298
MANAGEMENT PLAN TOTAL $2,274,967

Page last modified January 19, 2011