AWRI Information Services Center

York Creek Management Plan - Executive Summary

1. Executive Summary

York Creek, a second order coldwater stream located in Kent County, Michigan, is a tributary of the Grand River. Its headwaters and most of the watershed are located in Alpine Charter Township. The York Creek watershed currently experiences a number of water quality problems. Among these are increases in hydrologic fluctuation, sedimentation, and other nonpoint source (NPS) pollutant loadings. While there have long been indications that the water and habitat quality of York Creek was degrading as a result of these problems, the current study is the first known comprehensive examination of the watershed. Fish surveys were conducted at York Creek as long ago as 1925, and MDNR revisited the stream in 1969, 1987, 1989, and 1991. These are the only known previous studies on York Creek.

Review of all available information, field investigation, and consultation with Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) officials and others leads to the conclusion that three of these threats to water quality impact York Creek more heavily than all others. They are: 1) the increase in water velocity and volume resulting from the ever increasing area of impervious surfaces related to ongoing urbanization, 2) sediment from streambanks eroded by the increasing water, and 3) sediment originating from the large areas within the watershed undergoing land disturbing activities. Hereafter references made to water quality problems will include water quantities, aquatic habitat, and water chemistry.

The water quality problems of York Creek collectively result in an aquatic system that has been drastically altered from one characterized as supporting a good brook trout population. York Creek no longer supports its designated use as a coldwater stream based on the absence of trout, especially brook trout. The decrease in water and habitat quality is reflected as well in the lack of species diversity and number of individuals of macroinvertebrates in York Creek. In addition, the increases in runoff quantity and instream velocity have created numerous sites exhibiting extreme bank erosion. The sediment from these eroding streambanks further inhibits the stream from returning to viable trout-quality habitat by destroying spawning areas and limiting the available food supply.

Numerous pollutants currently impact York Creek. The sources and severity of impact vary throughout the watershed. Problems to be addressed in this report include, but are not limited to:

  • Sediment
  • Stormwater runoff
  • Fecal coliform bacteria
  • Thermal pollution
  • Toxic pollutants
  • Plant nutrients

The long term goal of the York Creek Watershed Project is to improve the stream habitat of York Creek with the intent to reintroduce indigenous game fish species. It is believed that adoption of the recommendations included in this report can result in the achievement of this goal. However, should the goal of the watershed municipalities and agencies be altered due to changes in financial, managerial, or other reasons, there are numerous other levels of implementation which could result in improved water quality. While the stream may not be improved sufficiently enough to return the York Creek system to viable trout habitat, more tolerant species might be introduced. Regardless of the final outcome of implementing some or all of the following recommendations, control of stormwater runoff from urbanizing areas is critical to the protection of public and private property in the watershed.

The Grand Valley State University Annis Water Resources Institute (AWRI) and the MDNR Water Quality Studies Unit conducted a series of hydrologic and surface runoff modeling events and evaluated nonpoint source pollution contributions to York Creek. This was accomplished through the use of a variety of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and an extensive data base. Alpine Charter Township officials will be provided with a computer software package adapted specifically for the York Creek watershed. With the actual and simulated information provided, planning officials can reasonably predict impacts of future land use changes on water quality before the commencement of land disturbing activities. In addition to the development of predictive capabilities regarding future impacts, the York Creek Watershed Project intends to implement numerous soil erosion and sediment control best management practices (BMPs) in order to decrease the NPS pollutant contributions currently impacting the water quality of York Creek.

Among the methods recommended for remediation of existing conditions are the following:

  • Installation of structural and vegetative Best Management Practices (BMPs) to combat the problems of streambank erosion, untreated surface runoff, and extreme hydrologic fluctuation
     
  • Initiation of managerial BMPs to assist local units of government, regulatory entities, watershed residents, and property owners in limiting the introduction of additional NPS pollutants into the aquatic system, particularly regarding the maintenance and administration of stormwater management systems
     
  • Development of a framework for public education programs regarding water quality issues, ranging from direct interaction with educators and children to indirect education via a variety of advertising strategies and video documentation of project activities
     
  • Continuation of monitoring at a few specific sites in order to better determine the impacts of some of the establishments in the industrialized downstream areas and areas of new construction
     
  • Evaluation and modification of the zoning ordinances as a means of implementing managerial, vegetative, and structural BMPs.

Difficulties are inherent in determining the cost effectiveness of these programs through the use of purely economic factors. The loss of recreation revenue from the destruction of one small trout stream pales in comparison to the economic stimulation fueled by the recent rate of development within the watershed. However, once the cumulative costs of numerous streams lost are factored in, it becomes easier to justify the recommendation of significant expenditures in order to combat the problems caused by NPS pollution. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, sport fishing generates $70 billion annually in economic output and supports about one million jobs. (Based on US Environmental Protection Agency. Office of Water. 1994. Weekly Water Notes. July 12)

The estimated total cost of implementation programs is $762,150. This estimate is divided into three categories:

  • Public Education/Public Relations $ 85,150
  • Best Management Practices $308,800
  • Staffing/Supplies $368,200

The dynamic changes in the watershed make any estimate of remediation measures and their associated costs accurate for only a short time. However, the technologically focused data collection, analysis, and presentation methods used during this study should increase cost efficiency through confidence in the accuracy of recommendations made.

Page last modified January 19, 2011