Local streams need our help

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Apr 7, 2014
The Firelands Coastal Tributaries Partners, with the help of the University Of Maryland’s Integrated Application Network (IAN), have completed the second round of report cards that rate the health of some of our local streams. The report card combines water quality data collected by trained volunteer stream monitors, researchers from the Old Woman Creek National Estuarine Research Reserve and the Erie County Health Department to inform local residents and public officials of the health and safety of our waterways.

Environmental report cards help develop an understanding of watershed conditions because they relay a great deal of scientific information in an easy format. The IAN has completed report cards for the Chesapeake Bay area, The Great Barrier Reef and others, which have helped to simplify water quality assessments to a wide audience. This process utilizes a scientific approach to identifying key water quality indicators, setting thresholds and developing the scoring system. Thresholds are set levels of water quality parameters (i.e. phosphorus or bacteria) that when exceeded create an unacceptable condition for aquatic life or human safety. These report cards use water quality data to tell a story of health about our local tributaries ... So how did we score?

Old Woman Creek: D+
•Old Woman Creek is a 27-square-mile watershed that drains into Lake Erie east of Huron. In 2013, the water quality sample resulted in a D+, which is considered poor health. This score is slightly lower than 2012 results, mainly due to phosphorus and nitrate levels exceeding the set threshold. On the positive side, once the stream water reached the estuary at the mouth of the creek the grade improved, illustrating the filtering benefits of wetland systems.

Pipe Creek: D+
•Pipe Creek is a 48-square-mile watershed that drains into East Sandusky Bay in the City of Sandusky at the Pipe Creek Pathway. In 2013, the water quality samples also resulted in a D+, which is considered poor health. The reason for the low grade in Pipe Creek was due to failing nitrate scores and poor sediment (measured as turbidity) scores.

Mills Creek: F
•Mills Creek is a 42-square-mile watershed that drains into Sandusky Bay in the City of Sandusky near the coal docks. The 2013 sampling year marks the first report card developed for the Mills Creek watershed. In 2013, Mills Creek received the lowest grade of all the watersheds monitored, F, which is considered very poor. This grade is due to failing nutrient scores (nitrate and phosphorus) and a poor turbidity score.

The frequency of storms and the number of wet days in 2013 resulted in many of our sampling points taken during or after rain events. Because our streams are storm- driven systems, it is not uncommon to see increased pollutants during and after a rain event. Still, the frequency and concentration of these pollutants demonstrate our streams are receiving more pollutants than they can handle, which can result in poorer health of the stream and Lake Erie.

In order to improve our streams and lake, we all need to engage in activities or Best Management Practices (BMPs) that help reduce pollutants leaving the land during and after storm events.

These types of practices can be categorized into three themes of storm water run-off control:

•Slow it down: An example of “slow it down” in urban settings is disconnecting downspouts so they run out into the lawn. In agricultural settings, the improvement of soil health results in slower water flow through the soil on its way to the drainage tile.

•Hold it back: Rain barrels and tile drainage water management systems are great ways to hold storm water back so our stream systems do not become overloaded.

•Soak it in: Finally, among the many ways to soak in water can be in the form of rain gardens in urban areas or groundwater to recharge areas in agricultural fields.

If you are interested in finding out more or are thinking about applying one of these practices on your land, give us a call at the Erie Soil and Water Conservation District. We hope these report cards will serve as a useful tool to the community as we work to build an understanding of our connection to water quality and motivate others to be good stewards for our streams, wetlands and our Great Lake — Lake Erie.

To learn more about how these report cards are developed and to view other report cards from around the globe, check out the University of Maryland’s Integrated Application Network at ian.umces.edu/.

Old Woman Creek, Pipe Creek and Mills Creek report cards will be available online at firelandstributraries.net/monitoring or in paper copy at the Erie Soil and Water Conservation District and Old Woman Creek National Estuarine Research Reserve.