Leave Bean Creek as a natural stream 3.11.09

Written by David Green.

By Janet Kauffman

Bean/Tiffin Watershed Coalition

Recently, in a survey about Bean Creek, the Lenawee Conservation District asked, “Do you think Bean Creek should be a county drain?” Bean Creek, our beautiful natural stream? Bean Creek, flowing naturally from Devils Lake to the Ohio line? Bean Creek, with its abundant fish and mussels, some very rare?

The answer, for many many reasons, is “No, Bean Creek should not now, not ever, be a county drain.” The River Raisin is not a county drain. (Many of the River Raisin’s tributaries are drains, as are some of Bean Creek’s tributaries in flatter areas to the south.)

But Bean Creek and the River Raisin are natural streams and always have been. Their coldwater tributaries are natural streams. It’s important to keep them that way.

In many places the Bean looks like a river up north, thanks to the forested banks, the riffles and rapids, the native shrubs like nannyberry and witch hazel growing along its edges, bending over the water, shading and cooling the stream for 17 species of freshwater mussels, for dozens of species of fish, and for the thousands and thousands of aquatic insects that are food for fish.

Bean Creek’s coldwater tributaries are a rarity in this part of Michigan. Flowing out of the uplands of Hillsdale County, the water is cold enough for fish like trout, documented in the past, and for mottled sculpin and an endangered fish—the redside dace (see it at www.beancreekwatershed.org)—documented in recent years just north of Hudson.

A drain can be cleared, it can be dredged, its banks can be scraped clean. The cost isn’t just the cost people pay for drain work, although those assessments have just doubled with a new Michigan law.

Even more, we could pay an immeasurable cost—the loss of a rare natural stream, its natural flow and function.

The Tangle, the Tea

It’s well-known how trees and shrubs along streams hold the banks in place with their roots, how vegetation holds back sediment. But in many ways people are just discovering how natural streams work, how they feed the whole river system.

The tangle, the overhanging shrubs and trees are even more important than you might guess.

Research at the Stroud Water Research Center has recently revolutionized our understanding of natural streams, especially forested headwater streams like the Bean. Studies of these streams show how solar energy in the form of leaves provides the essential food, a “watershed tea,” that flows downstream and nourishes the whole length of a river system.

Here’s how that “tea” is brewed: leaves and overhanging woody debris fall into the stream and this leaf litter—with attached microbes and aquatic insects collecting, scraping and shredding the organic material—generates a flow of energy that feeds all life in the river downstream, rivers that are too wide to have their own leaves overhead, such as the Maumee River.

When you know how rivers and natural streams work, you see them differently. Instead of a tangle of brush to chop or remove, you see networks of roots holding soil, preventing erosion. You see the cooling canopy. Instead of woody debris in the water as a mess or a problem, you see organic material to feed fish and everything downstream as well.

There’s food, energy and abundant life in leaf litter and woody debris, in the sand bars that build and shift in water, in the cobbles and riffles of a natural stream. Bean Creek has them all. Let’s keep it that way—a rare and beautiful stream, flowing naturally.

  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.base Ball
    UMPIRE Thomas Henthorn tosses the bat between team captains Mikayla Price and Chuck Piskoti of Flint’s Lumber City Base Ball Club. Following the 1860 rules, after the bat was grabbed by the captains, captains’ hands advanced to the top of the bat—one hand on top of the other. The captain whose hand ended up on top decided who would bat first. Additional photos of Sunday’s game appear on page 12 of this week’s Observer. The contest was organized in conjunction with Stair District Library’s Hometown Teams exhibit that runs through Nov. 20.
  • Front.chat
    VALUE OF ATHLETICS—Morenci graduate John Bancroft (center) takes a turn at the microphone during a chat session at the opening of the Hometown Teams exhibit at Stair District Library. Clockwise to his left is John Dillon, Jed Hall, Jim Bauer, Joe Farquhar, George Hollstein, George Vereecke and Mike McDowell. Thomas Henthorn (at the podium) kicked off the conversation. Henthorn, a University of Michigan–Flint professor, will return to Morenci this Sunday to lead a game of vintage base ball at the school softball field.
  • Front.cross
    HUDSON RUNNER Jacob Morgan looks toward the top of the hill with dismay during the tough finish at Harrison Lake State Park. Fayette runner Jacob Garrow focuses on the summit, also, during the Eagle Invitational cross country run Saturday morning. Continuing rain and drizzle made the course even more challenging. Results of the race are in this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.
  • Front.crossing
    Crossing over—Jim Heiney was given a U.S. flag to carry by George Vereecke (behind Jim in the hat), turning him into the leader of the parade. Bridge Walk participants cross over Bean Creek while, in the background, members of the Morenci Legion Riders cross the main traffic bridge on East Street South. Additional photos appear on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.hose Testing
    HOSE safety—The FireCatt hose testing company from Troy put Morenci Fire Department hose to the test Monday morning when Mill Street was closed to traffic. The company also checks nozzles and ladders for wear in an effort to keep fire fighters safe while on calls.

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