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Macomb County sets the pace

December 1, 1999 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Macomb County's aggressive program to solve a critical water quality problem serves as a model for other communities to endorse before they find themselves in a similar predicament.

Macomb Takes Charge

Macomb County now is moving forward with the most aggressive program in Michigan to solve a critical water quality problem. Their goals serve as a model for other Michigan communities to endorse before they find themselves in a similar predicament:

• Press local governments and the DEQ to enlarge and modernize sewage treatment plants. In the Detroit region, this will come to a cost of nearly $2 billion.

• Strengthen local and state zoning to encourage more compact communities, reduce the size of parking lots, provide for open swaths of green space, and establish natural buffers along streams to slow and cleanse runoff.

• Promote a farmland preservation law to protect crop and pastureland, and to gain more effective measures to control erosion.

• Compel the state Legislature to strengthen environmental laws that protect wetlands and rivers and prevent erosion.

• Pressure the DEQ to vastly improve its willingness to enforce environmental laws.

CONTACTS: Doug Martz, 810-463-8263; John Hertel, Macomb County Commission chairman, 313-369- 8250; Carl J. Marlinga, Macomb County prosecutor, 810-469-5641; Jim Nicholas, 517-887-8906, E-mail <jrnichol@usgs.gov>; Ed Frye, Grand Valley State University Water Resources Institute, 616-895-3722, E-mail <fryee@gvsu.edu>.

What an Ounce of Prevention Is Worth

"We need to solve these watershed problems before they become emergencies," said Ed Frye of the Grand Valley State University Water Resources Institute, pictured here at the mouth of York Creek where it enters the Grand River north of Grand Rapids. The land around the creek has been heavily developed. A $675,000 project, funded with federal tax dollars, could restore it to only a shadow of its former health.

The power of water to scour soil and chemicals from the land is evident in places like York Creek in Alpine Township, north of Grand Rapids. As recently as the 1970s, according to an environmental survey by the Department of Natural Resources, York Creek was a healthy stream with ample vegetation and a thriving trout population. In the 1980s and 1990s, though, the 2,100 acres that the creek helps drain were heavily developed with suburban housing and giant shopping centers ringed by immense parking lots.

The system of man-made retention basins to hold rainwater was inadequate. So much rain flowed off the new roads and parking lots during storms that the placid creek turned into a boiling torrent that regularly scrubbed tons of dirt from the banks, ruined trout spawning beds, reduced oxygen levels, killed plants, and deposited mountains of sediment into the Grand River.

Alpine Township and researchers from the Grand Valley State University Water Resources Institute launched a project to restore York Creek in 1993. Workers stabilized the banks with old Christmas trees, and redesigned and enlarged retention basins. They also improved road crossings over the river to reduce erosion.

The $675,000 project, paid for with federal funds, has improved the creek to the point where it now supports a small trout fishery. But little more can be done for York Creek, which ends pitifully at the mouth of a trash-strewn culvert on the banks of the Grand River.

"What we really learned while doing this project is that we need to solve these watershed problems before they become emergencies," said Ed Frye, a research assistant at Grand Valley State University.


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