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Fall Creek Monitoring: Beautiful colors and beautiful bugs

River and creek sampling

South Ore Creek at Bauer Road is shallow creek flowing through wetlands and forests.

South Ore Creek at Bauer Road is shallow creek flowing through wetlands and forests. credit: David Amamoto

Thanks to 137 volunteers who contributed a total of 548 volunteer hours, the 2013 Fall River Roundup was a great success!  Our volunteers split into 25 teams and traveled to 50 different creek and river locations across the Huron River Watershed to assess the aquatic benthic macroinvertebrate community.

This study is one of the most effective ways that HRWC has to keep its finger on the pulse of the stream. From the data collected from this semi-annual event, we get a better understanding of which creeks and rivers are getting better, which are getting worse, and how we can direct our management activities.

You can see all the results in Fall 2013 River Roundup Report.

Current Watershed Health

In a nutshell, the health of the watershed as judged by our macroinvertebrate sampling is holding steady. Of the 62 sites that we monitor to judge this, 30 sites have had no statistically significant changes over time, and 6 sites are too new to make this judgment.

12 sites are declining, and these include locations on Chilson Creek, Davis Creek, east branch of Fleming Creek, Norton Creek, and South Ore Creek.  The majority of the declining sites are in Livingston County.  Eight of the declining sites are in Livingston, two are in Washtenaw, and three are in Oakland.

14 sites are significantly improving.  11 of improving sites are in Washtenaw County, including Boyden Creek, Horseshoe Creek, the main and west branches of Fleming Creek, Huron Creek, the Huron River in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and several places on Mill Creek. 2 sites are improving in Livingston County (Horseshoe Creek at Merrill Road and Mann Creek at Van Amberg Road), and 1 site is improving in Wayne County (Woods Creek at the Lower Huron Metropark).

 

Highlights

1. For many years HRWC has held up Millers Creek in Ann Arbor as an example of what can happen to an urban creek- the stream flow is flashy, the channel is incised, the riparian vegetation is shrubby invasive plants, and there is little life in the creek.  In 2009 HRWC finished up a green infrastructure project in the headwaters of Millers designed to reduce the amount of stormwater rushing into the creek, and at the same time the City of Ann Arbor finished a major streambank stabilization project where the creek crossed Glazier Way.

The efforts spent restoring Millers Creek seems to be paying off.  The sample taken in Millers Creek at Glazier Way contained the most insect families ever seen since sampling began in 1993. While the overall trend since 1993 is unchanged, from 2004 when the creek was at its worst (3 insect families), until now in 2013 (12 insect families), there is a statistically significant increase.  Insects that are particularly susceptible to pollution and disturbance have yet to be found here however, and we will continue monitoring in hopes that these insects will make their way back to the stream.

Fall sampling results for Millers Creek @ Glazier Way over the past 20 years.

Fall sampling results for Millers Creek @ Glazier Way over the past 20 years.

 

2. Starting in this past January, HRWC has been sending volunteers to two new stream sites on Portage Creek near Stockbridge.  This is a long drive from Ann Arbor and we appreciate the volunteers who have made this journey. This Roundup, volunteers in the Portage Creek at Rockwell site found a treasure trove of insect diversity.  Twenty insect families were found which puts this new site up there with the very best places we go.  We will look forward to visiting this site again in the future!

Portage Creek @ Beckwith Nature Preserve... a new sampling site!

Portage Creek @ Beckwith Nature Preserve… a new sampling site! Picture taken January 2013.

 

Lowlight

Norton Creek @ West Maple Road looks like it has nice habitat, but the water quality is very poor.

Norton Creek @ West Maple Road looks like it has nice habitat, but the water quality is very poor. credit: Ron Fadoir

Norton creekshed in Oakland County is a Detroit suburb and industrial hub. Historically, the creek has suffered from numerous impairments and has seen little improvement as the area has become increasingly suburbanized.

In terms of the macroinvertebrate community, samples taken here have always had terrible diversity and low abundance, but in recent years things have gotten worse.  When sampling started in Norton Creek at West Maple Road in 2000, it was normal to find between 8 and 10 insect families.  However, volunteers during the past four fall River Roundups have found 3, 4, 4, and 3 insect families.  Two of the insect families found are actually water striders, which are only semi-aquatic as they live on top of the rather than in the water.

These poor samples have made Norton Creek the worst location of all of those that HRWC monitors. For more information on Norton Creek, see our Norton Creek page and associated creekshed report.  http://www.hrwc.org/norton

 

What’s next?

On January 26th, HRWC staff and volunteers will gather for the 19th annual Stonefly Search.  This event is very similar to a River Roundup except that we are only looking for stoneflies.  Some of these little guys can be found year round, but there are a couple of stonefly families that are only reliably found in the winter months, and they are great indicators of healthy water.   We hope you and your family and friends will join us for this fun outdoor event!  Register here! http://www.hrwc.org/volunteer/stonefly/



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