A $200,000 project to increase the floodplain of Kids Creek near Grand Traverse Pavilions is set to get underway in June – one of multiple projects planned to proceed in 2017 as part of a multi-year restoration effort to improve the health of the waterway and remove it from the state’s Impaired Waters List.
Sarah U’Ren, program director at The Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay, appeared before Grand Traverse County commissioners Wednesday to brief them on the latest project, set to take place on Kids Creek’s Tributary AA on the south end of the Pavilions campus near Grand Traverse Commons (pictured). “Our plan is to increase the floodplain, so we’re going to reduce the flooding problems that this area sees when we see heavy rains,” U’Ren told commissioners. “We’re going to add a 20-30 foot buffer along that section of creek, plant 65 new trees and replace two of the culverts.”
Because the project will take place on county land, The Watershed Center – working in partnership with the Pavilions and Team Elmer’s – required commission approval to proceed. But U’Ren noted to commissioners that the “biggest thing you guys need to know with this project is that it’s not going to cost you a dime.” Project funding will instead come entirely from a $728,000 Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) grant through the Environmental Protection Agency, which was awarded to The Watershed Center for green infrastructure improvements and bank stabilization along Kids Creek.
Commissioners unanimously approved the Tributary AA project, which U’Ren says – pending issuance of a Department of Environmental Quality permit – should start in June and be completed by the end of July.
The Watershed Center has worked on Kids Creek-related projects since 2003, which is at least as long as the waterway has been on the state’s Impaired Waters List, according to U’Ren. A two-mile section of Kids Creek in Traverse City’s urban core was put on the list after stormwater runoff and sedimentation depleted the stream’s aquatic insect populations – one of the key indicators of stream health, and upon which fish populations depend to survive.
“Kids Creek is a great urban creek that provides a lot of habitat, and it’s a great a way to connect people to the natural environment. There’s good potential for fish habitat there, for birds and other wildlife,” says U’Ren. “It’s also our only impaired water (in this category) in our watershed here…in my mind, it’s also the only one impaired mainly due to stormwater-related causes.”
The Watershed Center has secured approximately $4.3 million to date for Kids Creek-related projects through state and federal funds, private grants, and donations from partners like the Pavilions, Grand Traverse Commons and Munson Medical Center. Completed projects to reduce stormwater impact on Kids Creek so far have included:
> “Daylighting” a 900-foot section of Kids Creek (redirecting the stream into an above-ground channel) running through the Munson campus, creating nearly a quarter-mile of new naturally meandering stream;
> Eliminating 72,000 square feet of impervious surface by converting parking lot to pervious pavers, as well as retrofitting a basin to a rain garden on Medical Campus Drive and installing downspout planter boxes;
> Retrofitting 3,100 square feet of Munson rooftop to a green roof;
> Installing green roof, underground filtration trenches and a rain garden at Munson’s Cowell Family Cancer Center.
Other projects underway or soon to be include enlarging the wetlands on the corner of Elmwood Avenue and Medical Campus Drive so more water can be captured during storms, preventing overflow into Kids Creek, and converting rock-filled detention centers off of Cottageview Drive into functioning rain gardens. The Watershed Center and Munson also plan to collaborate on stormwater reduction systems when the hospital builds its planned new parking garage in its existing parking lot. Additional rain gardens and bioswales are also planned throughout the project corridor, while other projects listed for 2017-18 include paving the dirt road between Spanglish and Left Foot Charley at the Commons to reduce erosion and runoff (directing stormwater into rain gardens), and installing bioretention basins and pervious pavement around Munson's helipad parking lots.
U’Ren says The Watershed Center is nearing the completion of its first significant phase of work: reducing stormwater input to Kids Creek by installing green infrastructure throughout multiple sites around the stream. The organization will next switch gears the next several years to improving "stream function, installing better habitat and restoring sinuosity," U'Ren says.
“We know it’s never going to return what it once was more than 100 years ago, when it was surrounded by forest," she says. "We can’t make buildings go away. But it’s working within the confines of what we have…to restore health (back to the stream)."
U’Ren says she can’t estimate an exact dollar figure of how much investment is still needed to improve Kids Creek, as future projects have yet to be defined in scale and scope. Funding to complete the Kids Creek restoration remains a concern for The Watershed Center, with federal budget discussions this year including talks of either cutting or eliminating GLRI funding. The Watershed’s ability to obtain grant funding will determine if or when Kids Creek could be removed from the state’s Impaired Waters List, says U’Ren.
“It’s not going to be a quick fix, even if funding wasn’t an issue,” U’Ren. “Any project takes time. But if we were successful with funding, (Kid Creeks’ removal from the list) could be done in under 10 years.” The result, she says, would be a vibrant urban creek that “moves sediment at the rate it’s supposed to, has a healthy aquatic insect population, offers good habitat for fish, and has enough capacity to handle the stormwater it receives.”