Little Flower Creek
Little Flower Creek (LFC) is a designated coldwater stream located in northwest Muskegon County with a watershed area of 1500 ac (6km2). LFC consists of three branches (North, Middle, and South) converging as the Main Branch which flows through Meinert Park. It discharges to Lake Michigan at the outlet of an interdunal wetland on the public beach. Meinert Park is a popular recreational area covering 182 acres of dune land. The Land Conservancy of West Michigan recently acquired 31 additional acres to add to the adjacent public property to the north, the Flower Creek Dunes Nature Preserve. Excessive levels of E. coli from agricultural runoff and septic systems discharging to LFC have resulted in beach closures at Meinert Park (AWRI 2017). Agriculture and road runoff have resulted in streambank erosion and sedimentation. This is degrading fish and macroinvertebrate communities. Due to LFC’s importance to the local community and the Great Lakes, concerns have been raised regarding LFC’s ecological health and the potential impact of current and future development on the biodiversity of the watershed. The objective of this study was to conduct bioassessments, road stream crossing surveys, and erosion surveys to discern the magnitude of impairment and to identify critical areas for management. The assessment specifically included the following elements:
• Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) Procedure 51 (P51) bioassessments of fish, benthic macroinvertebrates, and stream habitat at 5 locations
• Great Lakes Road Stream Crossing Inventories (GLRSCI) at 10 road stream crossings throughout the watershed
• Bank Erosion Hazard Index (BEHI) surveys at 150 sites and prioritization of 30 locations according to the BEHI criteria.
Bioassessment results indicate LFC is not meeting coldwater fishery standards as salmonids are absent. Fish assemblages consist of mottled sculpin, blacknose dace, white sucker, and brook stickleback, all which preference colder water. Habitat assessments indicate that the stream bottom sediment (substrate), instream fish cover (woody debris and pools), and the stream channel sinuosity are of marginal quality. Benthic macroinvertebrates indicative of coldwater streams are present but lack the necessary diversity and abundance to yield acceptable P51 scores. These findings are linked to the embeddedness of the streambed by sand, lack of woody debris retention, and absence of instream fish cover. Despite these impairments, sites sampled at the Mouth and Middle branches have the potential to support coldwater biota because of the presence of riparian shade and vegetation.
LFC will benefit from in-stream habitat improvements, vegetative cover, and hydrologic stabilization to reduce erosional inputs, improve substrate diversity and increase woody debris retention. GLRSCI of ten road stream crossings (RSX) show fish passage impairment along all three branches of LFC. Fish passage ratings are impacted by perched culverts at 6 locations. The inventory also accounts for each culvert’s contribution to annual erosion and severity at RSXs along the Main, 3 Middle, and South branches. GLRSCI results suggest that erosion related to culvert design and condition contribute to the sedimentation and stream habitat issues found in these three branches. BEHI surveys found severe erosion sites located along the Middle, Main, and South Branches. Site severity is based on the condition of the streambank to be subject to erosion from steep bank angle, poor cover conditions, and steep channel dimensions. Erosion sites along the South Branch are linked to flashy flows and culverts. High priority sites along the Middle Branch are linked to the steep gradient and bank angle, coupled with culverts. Stream discharge is often absent at many of the upper sites in the North and South branches, indicating ephemeral (seasonal) flow regimes in these subwatersheds. Erosion sites along the Main branch at the private campground are related to absence of streamside vegetation and an exposed, high gradient dune along the right channel.
The Little Flower Creek watershed is heavily impacted by streambank erosion sites and dysfunctional road stream crossings. The resulting sedimentation and hydrologic instability have degraded fish and macroinvertebrate communities, resulting in LFC failing to achieve its designated use as a coldwater fishery (due to the absence of Salmonids). Colder water fish species are present along with mayflies and caddisflies, in low abundance. LFC is capable of supporting coldwater fish and macroinvertebrates, however their abundance and diversity are limited by stress from sedimentation and habitat destruction. The information from this study will support the development of Watershed Plan and the development of best management practices to enable restoration of coldwater fisheries. Coordinated management of the prioritized RSX and erosion sites is imperative for long-term success of fish and aquatic habitat restoration. Preliminary recommendations for restoration were targeted for the Main and Middle branches due to more stable flow regimes and the potential for enhancement of current biologic communities.
The study was funded by Fresh Water Future and conducted in cooperation with the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission, Muskegon County Environmental Coordinating Council, Muskegon County Parks, and Grand Valley State University Annis Water Resources Institute.
Little Flower Creek (LFC) is a designated coldwater stream located in northwest Muskegon County with a watershed area of 1500 ac (6km2) and includes more than 140-acres of critical dunes. LFC consists of three branches (North, Middle, and South) converging as the Main Branch which flows through Meinert Park. It discharges to Lake Michigan at the outlet of an interdunal wetland on this public beach. Meinert Park is a popular recreational area covering 182 acres of dune land. The Land Conservancy of West Michigan recently acquired 31 additional acres to add to the adjacent public property to the north, the Flower Creek Dunes Nature Preserve. Erosional soil loss and anthropogenic landscape changes have altered the natural state of LFC and degraded water and habitat quality in the system. Excessive levels of E. coli from various sources discharge into LFC have resulted in beach closures at Meinert Park. Due to LFC’s importance to the local community and the Great Lakes, concerns have been raised regarding continued problems with fecal contamination and the subsequent risk to public and economic health in the region. The objectives of this study were to determine if LFC meets recreational body contact standards, identify which sections of the creek do not meet the standards, and recommend areas for best management practice implementation. The assessment specifically included the following elements:
• Triplicate water samples were collected twice per month (May-September 2018), and analyzed for E. coli concentrations at five LFC locations during baseflow
• Two additional E. coli sampling events at all five locations following a rain event greater than 0.25 inches
• Three additional samples collected (July-August 2018) at the LFC mouth along Meinert Park beach, for the determination of a five-week (30-day) geometric mean
Results from this study show that LFC regularly exceeds Michigan water quality standards. Of the 68 samples collected, 65% exceeded the Michigan recreational water quality total body contact standard (300 cfu/100mL), while 32% exceeded the Michigan daily partial body contact standard (1000 cfu/100mL). These levels were observed in all branches and at the discharge at the public beach. Further, LFC consistently exceeded the 30-day geometric mean recreational water standard (130 cfu/100mL) and ranged from 280-600 cfu/100mL. High E. coli concentrations were more often found in downstream areas of the watershed and high bacterial loads identified in the Middle Branch. This branch had the greatest discharge and the two remaining branches exhibited ephemeral stream flow. A principal component analysis showed a distinct relationship between E. coli concentrations, discharge, turbidity, and rainfall among all samples, implicating surface runoff as the driver of E. coli loading in the LFC watershed. The information from this study will support the development of a watershed management plan and the development of best management practices to enable restoration of recreational water quality. Coordinated management of the prioritized areas is imperative for long-term success of public health restoration. Preliminary recommendations for water quality restoration in LFC include the establishment of vegetative buffer zones in high runoff areas, implementation of contour plowing, alteration of manure application practices, and restoration of existing, or implementation of new wetland areas in the upper Middle Branch and South Branch of the watershed.
The study was funded by the County Community Foundation for Muskegon County and conducted in cooperation with the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission, Muskegon County Environmental Coordinating Council, Muskegon County Parks, and Grand Valley State University Annis Water Resources Institute.