An Awesome Meeting With The Intercounty Drainage Board!

Cue the music: “I’m So Excited!!”

Yesterday’s meeting went well: all the public comments made at the first Practicability Hearing were added to the minutes of the second one.  It now sounds like the Patterson Bridge replacement will be done in 2014 – not this year as they first hoped.  I presented each Board member with a copy of the 3 different water tests taken on the Cuddy this summer (all points basically failed the “safe” threshold).   Handed out Friends Of The Cuddy Drain business cards like popcorn.   My elementary-school-quality poster of “How To Solve The Cuddy’s Problems” was studied by a nice young man named Dan Fredricks before the meeting – and during the meeting, it was announced that he represented the Engineering Firm who won the bid for designing the bridge replacement!!!  Why is that exciting??  He and an associate (Aaron Snell with Streamside Ecological Services) are well-educated in remediating “problem streams”.  These guys are just what the Cuddy needs!!!!!!!!

I also met with some folks who live along (or own property along) the Cuddy on the west side of Patterson.  It was good to hear them angry about some of the things that happen to the Cuddy, too.  NOBODY is happy about the current state of 1st St, with its erosion; debris; or the fact that it’s closed.  The snowmobilers will be livid – 1st St is a main thoroughfare for the local Snowmobile Club Trails.  Right now – it’s blocked for them, too.

Dan and Aaron have their work cut out for them!


Headed To The Gunfight With My Knife

Wednesday, September 25th is the “re-run” of the Patterson Bridge Replacement Practicability Hearing.  It was determined after the first meeting on July 23rd, that the residents of Barry County who live in the Cuddy Drain Assessment District had not been properly notified by mail – therefore the meeting needed to be held again.

The first meeting was a good one, in my opinion.  Any engineering firms wishing to submit bids to the Drainage Board for the Patterson Bridge replacement, must also include a report from an Environmental Engineer, about how they plan to remediate the Big Three Scourges that the Cuddy delivers to the Channel residents: Debris, Sediment, and E-coli.  The Drainage Board also recommended the engineering firms get input from both the Gun Lake Protective Association AND the Friends Of The Cuddy Drain.  I will be in attendance to make sure those recommendations not be lost.

Well, I’ve done a LOT of studying in those last two months; and most of the people we will be talking to at the meeting on Wednesday have NOT read this blog…LOL!   So I made them a poster.  Yep – a hand-drawn, straight-from-Elementary School POSTER.  Yes, they will laugh at my crude drawings….BUT:  maybe, just maybe, some brilliant Environmental Engineer-sort of person will grab my concept and run with it??

Yes, it looks like something a 5th-grader would do.

Yes, it looks like something a 5th-grader would do.

OK – my pond-turned-wetlands is drawn a tad large <grin>; and I included my access pathway off Patterson.  As they say: “Go Big or Go Home“.  The more water we can expose to sunlight, the more cooties we kill.  The pathway would open up the woods a teeny bit,  throw a little more sunlight on the remaining water headed for the wider Patterson Bridge; and reduce slightly the amount of organic matter falling into the drain.  There could be signs, some day….. teaching folks how the wetlands are cleaning the water; the Sand Trap is catching sediment; and how the bridge supports are stopping large debris from entering navigable water.

I’ll let you know how many of them laugh at my drawing…..

Solving ALL the Cuddy Problems!

Hey – a girl can dream, right??  If I could wave my Magic Wand, this is what I’d build:

Presto-Change-o!  The solution to all that ails the Cuddy Channel

Presto-Change-o! The solution to all that ails the Cuddy Channel

Of course, the deluxe version of this dream has a nice hiking pathway along the south side of the stream, from Patterson to the Sand Trap; then a bridge crossing to the north side that would also act as a debris barrier.  That way, folks can watch over the Sand Trap and Pond to make sure they are working properly.  There could be some Wood Duck nests near the pond.  Families could take a walk and watch dragonflies zip among the cattails.

Now, it’s not entirely a dream – I have solid research and data to show that all these components would actually work.  There’s no “theory” here.

The “Dream” is that two counties, umpteen regulatory agencies; and private landowners would agree to this.  And then it needs to rain $100 bills…….

“Ponding” Is The Best Way To Kill E-coli

The Hero-of-the-Day is Richard Whitman, USGS (and his research team)!  His extensive, multi-year study of E-coli in Dunes Creek (Indiana Dunes State Park) is giving me hope that we CAN deliver reasonably-safe water down the Cuddy Drain and Channel.  I will attempt to explain the highlights of that study, from April 2003 to December 2005:

The Problem:  Dunes Creek is a habitual source of E-coli that often forces the closure of a popular Lake Michigan beach at Indiana Dunes State Park due to unsafe E-coli levels.

What They Did:  Constructed a shallow, meandered pond about 200′ x 250′ (1300 cu yds) on a tributary of Dunes Creek as an experiment.  Water entered on the south end; took about 9 hours to flow through the pond (later a wetlands after native vegetation filled in); and exited on the north end.  Water was sampled at the inflow; 2 points along the middle of the pond (that was shaped like a backward “S”); and at the outflow.  Not only did they consider how the pond affected the E-coli levels, but also how the strength of the sunshine, time of day, season, and hydrology such as rain and snowmelt all affected the E-coli.

Man-made pond slows the water and exposes it to sunlight

Man-made pond slows the water and exposes it to sunlight (Image from March 2005)

Why This Study Is Significant:  It’s us.  Same sandy soil; same heavily-shaded creekbed, same seasonal weather.  Same “E-coli persistency” within the creek where it grows.

What They Learned:  A LOT of things affect E-coli levels: levels were higher in the morning than in the afternoon; heavy rains or snowmelt raised the levels due to runoff and stirring-up sediments where the E-coli grow; seasons affected the levels due to the strength of the sunlight.  By slowing the water down, the bacteria were more prone to predation by other organisms (this proved even more effective a year after the pond was built and native vegetation had basically turned it into a wetland).

What was a "pond" is now a wetland

What was a “pond” is now a wetland

The most important statistic (IMO): a year after building the pond, the E-coli level at the outflow point was 98% less than at the inflow point, when measured on a summer afternoon!!!  Sunlight is clearly our friend – the results were less significant during the winter months or on cloudy days with weaker sunlight radiation.

How It Relates To The Cuddy:  Right now, the Cuddy is dark and fast.  Replacing the existing culverts with a 16′ wide opening will just speed the water up – there’s no way we’ll see a reduction in E-coli levels….. unless we SLOW DOWN THE WATER AND EXPOSE IT TO SUNLIGHT.  This study proves that.

Amazing Watershed Website!

I LOVE this!  It’s good to be a beautiful river running through a big city with a university 🙂  For starters – you get a gorgeous and informative website!!!!

Granted, the Huron River and Ann Arbor/U of M are a long way from the Cuddy.  But water is water and their extensive research can help us understand what’s going on in our little corner of the world!  Thank you, Ric Lawson, for this link!

The Cuddy and the State Park

I was asked a question: “Does the E-coli coming down the Cuddy Drain affect the State Park?”

Quick answer: no.

A summer’s worth of water testing by various entities shows that even with a high E-coli count going under the Patterson Bridge, those numbers get diluted the moment they enter the Channel; and continue to be diluted heading out into the lake.  The chance of a >300 colonies per 100ml count entering the main lake is pretty much zero after being diluted in the enormous water volume of Robbins Bay.

The Gun Lake Protective Association/Summit Labs sampled different points around the lake 3 different times this summer.  ALL test points were safe (except the Cuddy Channel, of course).  When the GLPA samples, it’s done from a boat and the sample is taken from slightly deeper water.  The Barry-Eaton Health Dep’t agent wades into the lake and takes samples close to shore – where there is more influence from waterfowl or diaper-wearing babies, for example.

Dilution is the solution to the  pollution“.  This doesn’t mean we can keep using our waterways as sewers – but it does work.

Sand Traps – and we’re not talking golf….

The darker shades of blue denote higher water volume

The sites of former Sand Traps between First and Patterson are marked with gold


When Greg Purcell and I walked the Cuddy Drain from 1st St to Patterson early this summer, one of the things we looked for were the old Sand Traps.  Russ Yarger, Barry County Drain Commissioner, told me there was one about 1000′ east of 1st; and sure enough, we could see remnants of an old road and a few old sand piles up on the bank!  They even show up on Google Earth as the light grey mounds on the north side of the Drain, as seen in this image from 2011.  They’ve been gone – but not forgotten!!

GoogleEarth_Image Sand Trap

Any time moving water is carrying sediment/sand, it tends to drop it where the water slows down.  Unfortunately for the Cuddy Channel residents, this ALWAYS happens where the Drain meets the Channel just below Patterson; and explains why the upstream Channel is so choked with sand, that boats can run aground.  It’s REALLY expensive to dredge sediment out of the Channel using barge-mounted excavators – costs have been quoted from $20 to $30 per cubic yard.

Back in the 1980’s, at least one (and probably 2) Sand Traps were added to the lower Cuddy Drain.  All that was involved was digging a deeper trench in the middle of the drain.  That slowed the water enough, to get it to drop its burden of sand and sediment; (and here’s the beauty of a Sand Trap) and when it was “full” – it disappeared!!  Greg and I walked right over the top of it – there’s no noticeable difference between it and any other area of the Drain.  When it needs to be emptied – a land-based excavator can dig out the sediment for $2 to $3 per cubic yard – a HUGE cost savings!!

Bob Shaffer, former Barry County Drain Commissioner, said the Sand Traps were regularly maintained back then; but for whatever reason, that ceased.  And that’s probably around the same time that Cuddy residents noticed the Channel was rapidly filling with sand.  In late November of 2011, the Channel was dredged and 1700 cubic yards of sediment was removed.  One year later, the area dredged had refilled with sediment.  These costs are passed along to homeowners – they were not happy about facing these charges almost yearly.

Shoulder of 1st St washing out

Shoulder of 1st St washing out

Where does the sand and sediment come  from??  Granted – the whole Cuddy Watershed contains sandy soil; but the recent “freshening” of 1st St in the fall of 2012 left raw sand shoulders along a gravel roadbed that washes a bit away with each heavy rain.  Early this summer, Holly Vickers of the DEQ strongly recommended that these shoulders be “stabilized” with plantings; or better yet – that the Drain be protected from direct road runoff.  To date – nothing has happened and one can STILL see where sand is eroding into the Drain.

The death of 1st St

Let’s add MORE sand where we already have a problem….

Furthermore, to add insult to injury; the Allegan County Road Commission blocked off 1st St in April 2013 by dumping HUGE piles of SAND in the road so cars can’t drive around the barricades.  Of course, kids are playing on those piles, and it too is getting washed into the Drain with each rain….


We have never needed those Sand Traps more than we do right NOW.