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Water Watchers Sound Alarm Up North

August 1, 2001 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Northern Michigan so far has avoided much of the water quality deterioration that plagues many areas of the southern lower peninsula. But water “hot spots” in Grand Traverse Bay are signs that vigilance is necessary even “up north.”

Clean sand and clear water used to greet Rickie Bradford, for example, at the point where Yuba Creek meets East Grand Traverse Bay in Acme Township. Ms. Bradford has lived at the mouth of Yuba Creek nearly all her life.

In the late 1980’s she snapped a picture of her then two-year-old son playing by the water’s edge on a classic, bright northern Michigan summer afternoon. “You can see the color of every stone around him,” said Ms. Bradford, who is 54 and president of Concerned Citizens of Acme Township, a grassroots environmental advocacy organization. “The water is beautifully clear.”

“My son is 24 now, and when you walk down to the bay these days you can’t tell the color of anything. It’s all covered with algae. There are weeds everywhere.”

In 1991 researchers identified and mapped 63 weed beds along the bay’s 132 miles of shoreline. By 1998 the number of weed beds in Grand Traverse Bay increased to 124, according to The Watershed Center, a nonprofit organization in Traverse City that monitors the bay’s water quality.

Weed beds have actually declined along the mouth of Yuba Creek, however, since the high counts of 1991, said Chris Wright, the center’s executive director. But Rickie Bradford says the water at the mouth of Yuba Creek, still weedy near her home, is evidence of serious threats to the bay that local government should defuse by guiding growth so that it does not harm the water that attracts so many people.

Resort, retail, and residential development in the 1980s loaded Yuba Creek with fertilizers and other “nutrients” from pollution runoff, according to research by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Weeds feed on this rich runoff cocktail. As they grow, the weeds rob fish and other aquatic life of oxygen.

Taking action
Members of the Concerned Citizens of Acme Township are working to clean up the river and protect it from new development that could, if not managed well, send still more sediment and pollution into the creek.

“It makes me very sad to see us losing such a natural wonder and recreational resource,” said Ms. Bradford. “It also makes me sad that we know what causes the problem, but we don’t seem to be able to do what’s necessary to fix it.”

The Watershed Center and others are doing their part to build a base of scientific knowledge about the bay’s water quality, including gathering information to help prevent beach closings. Traverse City issued swimming advisories at least twice since last summer on West Bay. The state recently awarded the center and two local health departments a $34,700 grant to monitor 14 beaches this summer in the greater Grand Traverse area.

“We’re looking at where we have storm drains and beaches at the same location,” said Mr. Wright. Storm drains are a main conduit of the pollution runoff that can contaminate water.

CONTACT(S): Rickie Bradford, Concerned Citizens of Acme Township, 231-938-2748, <rickiebay@aol.com>; Christopher Wright, The Watershed Center, 231-935-1514, <cwright@gtbay.org>.

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