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.

  • Play Practice
    DRAMA—Fayette schools, in conjunction with the Opera House Theater program, will present two plays Friday night at the Fayette Opera House. From the left is Autumn Black, Wyatt Mitchell, Elizabeth Myers, Jonah Perdue, Sam Myers (in the back) and Lauren Dale. Other cast members are Brynn Balmer, Mason Maginn, Ashtyn Dominique, Stephanie Munguia and Sierra Munguia. Jason Stuckey serves as the technician and Trinity Leady is the backstage manager. The plays will be performed during the day Friday for students and for the public at 7 p.m. Friday.
  • Front.F.school
    PROGRESS continues on the agriculture classroom addition at Fayette High School. The project will add 2,900 square feet of space and include an overhead door that would allow equipment to be driven inside. The building should be ready for the start of school in August. Work on ball fields and a running track is also underway.
  • Front.rover
    CLEARING THE WAY—Road crossings in the area on the construction route of the Rover natural gas pipeline are marked with poles and flags as preliminary work nears. Ditches and field entry points are covered with thick planks in many areas to support equipment for tree clearing operations. Actual pipeline construction is progressing across Ohio toward a collecting station near Defiance. That segment of the project is expected to wrap up in July. The 42-inch line through Michigan and into Ontario is scheduled for completion in November. The line is projected to transport 3.25 billion cubic feet of natural gas every day.
  • Front.geese
    ON THE MOVE—Six goslings head out on manuevers with their parents in an area lake. Baby waterfowl are showing up in lakes and ponds throughout the area.
  • Accident
    FAYETTE resident Patricia Stambaugh, 64, was declared dead on the scene of a single-vehicle accident Friday morning south of Morenci. Rescue units were called around 9 a.m., but as of Tuesday, law enforcement officers had not yet determined the time of the accident. According to Ohio State Highway Patrol, Stambaugh was driving west on U.S. 20 when her Chevrolet Malibu traveled off the north side of the road and down a steep embankment, coming to rest in Bean Creek (Tiffin River).
  • Front.teacher Leading
    PRESCHOOL MUSIC—Fayette band director Jeffrey Dunford spends the last half hour of the day leading the full-day preschool class in musical activities. Additional photos are on page 7 of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.
  • Face Paint
    FUN NIGHT FUN—Savanna Miles sits patiently while Abbie White works on a face paint design Friday during the Morenci PTO Fun Night. Gracie Snead watches the progress after having spent time in the chair. Abbie was one of several volunteer painters, each creating their own unique look. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.

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