BRUNSWICK – Officials for the Cuyahoga Soil and Watershed Conservation District says educating the public about the dangers of pet waste, fertilizer and other pollutants needs to be a high priority in the coming years in order to preserve the quality of the community’s waterways, namely Plum Creek and Brunswick Lake.
According to Jared Bartley, Rocky River Watershed coordinator for the Cuyahoga Soil and Water Conservation District, the phosphorus levels in Plum Creek are at the highest levels they have been since officials for the Cuyahoga Soil and Water Conservation District began monitoring the water conditions regularly back in 2001.
“When we tested the water (at the end of April) the levels were the highest we’ve ever had,” Bartley said. “They were about 20 times what we’d hoped to find.”
In terms of water quality, Bartley said, Plum Creek, which drains approximately 12.79 square miles of land including portions of Hinckley Township, Brunswick Hills Township and the city of Brunswick, is one of the few streams in the state of Ohio designated as “poor quality” in terms of physical stream condition in 2012.
A 2010 Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report conducted in 2010 and a Rocky River Watershed Action Plan conducted in 2006 concluded that Plum Creek is impaired by nitrogen-loading, excessive sedimentation and habitat modiﬁcation caused primarily by urban runoff, Bartley said.
Monitoring conducted in 2012, however, indicates that phosphorus, known for causing algae blooms in Lake Erie and other waterways, has become an even more significant factor in terms of deteriorating water quality than nitrogen.
Bartley said that the tributaries that drain into Plum Creek, including Healey Creek on the city’s north end and Brunswick Lake, also in the city of Brunswick, are likely to blame.
“Testing has shown that the habitat quality is best in the main branch of the creek, especially in the lower sections where the creek ﬂows mostly through forest,” Bartley said, noting that these healthier portions of the creek are located south of Sleepy Hollow Road in Brunswick Hills and Medina townships. “Many of the tributaries on the north end of the city ﬂow through residential areas and have been heavily modiﬁed, limiting aquatic habitat while increasing the downstream transport of nutrients and other pollutants.”
Accordingly, Bartley said the CSWCD, working in conjunction with the Medina Soil and Water Conservation District, has started sampling the water regularly over the past year in order to analyze possible culprits for the deteriorating water quality and to develop possible solutions.
To date, the recommendations the organizations have made so far in an effort to restore channel form and function, reduce stream bank erosion, improve in-stream and riparian habitat and reduce phosphorus loading in Plum Creek, have been concentrated in the upper portion of the watershed.
To make way for residential neighborhoods, Bartley said the stream has been straightened in several cases and confined to concrete channels through back yards.
“As a result, these channels have essentially acted as pollutant super-highways, delivering phosphorus from lawn fertilizers and other contaminants,” he said, noting that homeowners associations and the city often maintains the areas along the channel, picking up debris and mowing grass.
Bartley said if these entities would discontinue mowing within 25 feet of the edge of the channel, or limit mowing to one time per year to maintain sight lines water quality could improve. Likewise, he said, creating a natural buffer of at least five feet between other walking paths and recreational trails located in the vicinity of these channels may provide equally beneficial effects.
Bartley also recommends that the public discontinue fertilizer use within 25 feet of the edge of the channel, within 25 feet of any drain whose outlet is located in either the stream channel or the 25-foot buffer adjacent to the channel.
Repairing riparian forests, enhancing stream channels and retrofitting detention basins are also recommendations made by the CSWCD.
More extensive projects have also been recommended for the Gary Drive ditch, which runs west of the Cross Creek apartment complex, as well as the North Industrial Parkway basin. Estimates for those projects top $600,000 and funding mechanisms, including state and federal grants, are currently being explored, Bartley said.
At the homeowner level, Bartley said residents can help reduce pollution as well. Among the recommendations, he said, is that residents use phosphorus-free or low-phosphorus fertilizers; keep grass clippings, leaves and other yard waste out of storm drains and creeks; pick up outside pet waste and dispose of it in the trash; and plant trees, especially next to streams.
“Streamside trees and shrubs provide wildlife habitat, have deep roots for enhanced stream bank stabilization and provide cooling shade that is especially important for maintaining suitable oxygen levels in smaller, headwater streams,” he said.
To help educate the public even further, Bartley said the Rocky River Watershed Council is also planning several activities, including stream cleanups, throughout Medina County this summer. Also being planned is a stream walk and picnic along Healey Creek in July. Details about those events will be published as they become available.