According to the Kalamazoo County Drain Commissioner, Davis Creek is one of the most polluted tributaries to the Kalamazoo River.
“This stream has a little bit of every possible problem known to an urban environment,” says Drain Commissioner Patricia Crowley.
Crowley says 24 industries discharge material into the creek. She says the commission is also pursuing a grant to track industrial chemicals in the stream, but the biggest threat to water quality here—and in most urban streams—is runoff. That’s because chemicals and nutrients like phosphorus wash off roads, parking lots, and construction sites.
“Phosphorus is a naturally occurring nutrient in all of us, even in our DNA. The problem with phosphorus is that once you have too much of it, it causes algal blooms and it can be so dense as to create oxygen deprivation in an aquatic system,” says Crowley.
The urban stream flows through the cities of Kalamazoo and Portage as well as the townships of Kalamazoo, Comstock, and Pavilion.
The creek has been polluted for several decades, but now all five municipalities have finally teamed up to fix the creek with the help of a grant of more than $150,000 from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
The engineering firm Kieser & Associates has been hired to reshape the stream banks, plant native species, and remove debris.
Georgia Wyman, retired from Pfizer, lives behind I-94 Business Loop near the Kalamazoo County Fairgrounds. The creek runs right through her back yard. Wyman says over the 12 years she’s lived there, she’s had a love/hate relationship with the creek.
“It’s one of the things that [drew] me to this house to start with was the creek beside it. Because you can lay in there at night and you can hear the creek bubbling through there," she says. "The last summer was bad and it almost dried up because it had so many clogs.”
Wyman says she had to call the Kalamazoo County Drain Commissioner’s Office last fall to help her lift a whole mattress out of the creek. Wyman says sometimes she worries that if she doesn’t take debris out of the creek, it might flood after a heavy rain. She’s already lost a tool shed.
“It gets worse and worse each year," Wyman says. "So I’m glad that something is going to be done.”
Crowely says trees next to eroding creeks also tend to die and fall into the stream, blocking its flow, which leads to even more erosion. Crowley says right now the creek is running too fast and too hot to support aquatic life.
“When you have water coming off of streets it’s very hot. If you walk barefooted you would know. It’s very different from a forested area," she says. "So cooling down the water and having habitat will make a big difference. And there are some groups that do monitor biotic activity and they will be looking at how well this is repopulated after we finish.”
Georgia Wyman says she doesn't think many people realize, or care, that the trash they throw in the creek ends up in her yard. Brian Boyer is the environmental engineering manager at Kieser & Associates.
“What we do with our storm water runoff has an effect on the areas that we like to think of as natural,” says Brian Boyer, Environmental Engineering Manager at Kieser & Associates.
“One of the things that we’ll be doing as we do construction efforts here on these three sites is some additional public outreach to kind of make everyone aware of what has caused these conditions in the past and what’s being done now in going forward to prevent those from happening again.”
Wyman says she’s just happy that the creek will be a better place for her grandson to play.
“He loves the wildlife and he loves to see the frogs out there in the sun," she says. "And it’s just something that children should be able to enjoy.”