Volunteers wade in to check health of Kent County streams ; The research will be used to determine where to spend cleanup funds.:[3 Edition]
Rob Kirkbride / The Grand Rapids PressThe Grand Rapids PressGrand Rapids, Mich.: May 12, 2002.  pg. A.22
Full Text (587   words)

Copyright Grand Rapids Press May 12, 2002

Carla Black sat on the bank of Lamberton Creek on Saturday poking through a heap of muck with the end of a twig, looking for signs of life.

"There's an alderfly larva. That will raise our diversity score," she said, pulling the spiny black creature out of the soggy sediment and placing it in a pan full of water.

To be sure, the creepy alderfly larva is not a cuddly critter. But it is a sure sign of a healthy creek.

Black and a small group of volunteers scoured the creek on the north side of Riverside Park as part of Stream Search 2002. Stream Search checks the health of waterways throughout Kent County.

More than 100 volunteers Saturday checked about 30 streams and rivers around the county. Their findings will be used by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to determine where to target cleanup funds.

The Stream Search was organized by the West Michigan Environmental Action Committee.

Some streams, like Lamberton Creek, have surprisingly healthy water. Lamberton Creek likely will receive a "good" rating from WMEAC, said Patricia Pennell, the adopt-a-stream coordinator at WMEAC and a Stream Search organizer.

Stream searchers found crayfish, water striders and the larva of several bugs. Pennell called it a "good day's catch."

Grades for others streams in West Michigan will not be as high. Plaster Creek, which runs through Wyoming and Kentwood, continually receives a poor rating because of high levels of E coli, she said. The E coli bacteria is carried into the water from sewers, storm drains, livestock and wildlife. Ingesting it can cause vomiting, nausea, stomach ache and diarrhea.

"Surface water quality is a real indicator of the health of a community," said Pennell, standing in Lamberton Creek in a pair of hip waders and holding a net to capture bugs.

Progress has been made, but the stream testers know more work is needed to clean up the rivers and streams in Kent County.

The Ottawa County Health Department issued a warning Friday against body contact with water in the Grand River through today. Such warnings are issued when heavy rainfall causes an overflow at the Grand Rapids wastewater treatment plan. Officials said 1.4 million gallons were discharged into the river Thursday.

Adam Gapczynski decided to help with the Stream Search after reading about several environmental accidents -- including a hydrochloric acid spill Thursday at Haviland Products Co. in Grand Rapids.

Gapczynski is a student at Kenowa Hills High School.

"It's important for everyone to determine how healthy the water really is," he said. "All of these streams and rivers empty into Lake Michigan and that's where our drinking water comes from."

Black brought her granddaughter Elizabeth with her to search the stream. Black stressed the importance of a healthy environment and the need to be good stewards for future generations.

"Everybody assumes someone is checking the health of these streams," Black said. "But if we didn't do it, it simply wouldn't get done."

Pennell said the Stream Search program, which is supported by several West Michigan colleges and universities, is important to gauge the health of the water system, but it is not enough.

WMEAC is establishing an "adopt-a-stream" program where volunteers clean and monitor a portion of a stream in Kent County. The goal is to have every mile of stream in the county cared for by volunteer groups.

A Stream Search will be held from 8:30 a.m. to noon Oct. 12. Volunteers will meet at the Aquinas College Fulton Street entrance parking lot.

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People:   Black, Carla,  Pennell, Patricia
Section:   City & Region
Text Word Count   587