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York Creek Management Plan - Land Use

2.4 Land Use

In association with the expanding population of the watershed is the alteration of land use patterns. Assessment of the degree of nonpoint source pollutant contributions to York Creek required the collection of current and previous land use and cover data. Data was compiled through a variety of methods ranging from on-site visual assessments to the use of an extensive existing database, geographic information systems (GIS), and satellite imagery, each employed by Grand Valley State University's Annis Water Resources Institute.

Land use changes within the watershed have increased dramatically in recent years. Accompanying the additional residential, industrial, and commercial interests in the watershed is the need to accommodate them through alteration of land uses. Once primarily an orchard and other agriculture-based area, the watershed has become increasingly built up or urbanized (Table 1). The analysis and prediction of land use change is a critical component of municipal and natural resources planning. The Annis Water Resources Institute is actively involved in this field of study, and possesses an expansive data base of land use information. Using data compiled by the Michigan Resource Information Systems (MIRIS), AWRI created a 1978 land use map. AWRI staff then produced land use maps for the years 1963, 1991, and 1993 (Figures 3-6). These maps were created through the interpretation of aerial photos and incorporation of the data into various geographic information systems.

The impacts on the aquatic systems within areas of such intense alterations are many and severe. Exposure of large areas of soil to the elements during the various phases of development often results in quantities of soil leaving the construction site. Once the soil is suspended and in motion by wind or water, it is considered a pollutant. Such suspended soils are a common occurrence in the York Creek watershed. At any given time there are significant portions of the watershed's 3.3 square miles undergoing land disturbing activities, whether they are agriculture or development oriented.

Impervious surfaces such as roads, rooftops, and parking lots are commonly associated with urban land uses and now occupy much of the acreage in the watershed. Using October 1992 satellite imagery, 1993 aerial photographs, and field analysis, AWRI estimated that approximately 19% of the York Creek watershed was impervious. Given the recent rate of land use change, the estimate should be considered conservative.

Current impervious areas have been converted from forest and woodlots, open fields, orchards, and other types of agriculture. The altered land use pattern contributes increased quantities of runoff to the area's waterways. The increased amount of runoff carries with it a variety of nonpoint source pollutants. NPS pollutants such as sediment, nutrients, pesticides, heavy metals, bacteria, and automobile fluids are transported to water bodies in increasing amounts following an alteration in land use. Urbanizing watersheds such as York Creek, where there are significant construction activities, are expected to have higher loading rates than those with other land uses.

Not all of the watershed is urbanized, however. The headwater areas of York Creek are predominantly agriculture-based. While orchard crops dominate, some row crops are grown as well. Alpine Township has many acres of valuable agricultural land. Analysis of the data provided in this report could be valuable to township officials as they seek to find a balance between their prized agricultural areas and highly valuable commercial properties. (Beaulac, Michael N., and K.H. Reckhow. 1992. An examination of land use - nutrient export relationships. Water Resources Bulletin. 18(6):1022.)

  1963 1978 1991 1993 % change from 1963-1993
Commercial 16 134 201 309 1831
Industrial 19 51 57 57 200
Residential 429 518 634 634 47.78
Transportation 26 26 29 29 11.5
Open Field 447 420 370 395 -11.5
Agriculture 391 263 234 164 -58.1
Orchard 295 209 209 182 -38.3
Open Pit 5 5 5 8 60
Recreation 144 139 113 56 -61.1
Forest 332 339 291 272 -18.1
Wetland 6 6 6 4 -33.3
Total Acres 2110 2110 2110 2110  

These numbers reflect some very distinct patterns in land use changes in the last three decades. From 1963 to 1993 the following occurred, based on the acreage in each land use category:

  • Residential acreage increased 48%
  • Industrial acreage increased 200%
  • Commercial acreage increased 1831%

While these land uses increased in acreage during the period, other categories lost acreage:

  • Forested acreage decreased by 18%
  • Open fields decreased by 12%
  • Recreational acreage decreased by 61%
  • Orchard acreage decreased by 38%
  • Non-orchard agricultural acreage decreased by 58%.

Figure 3. 1963 Land Use

Figure 4. 1978 Land Use

Figure 5. 1991 Land Use

Figure 6. 1993 Land Use

Page last modified January 19, 2011