Another Stroll Down The Cuddy (with friends!)

Thursday October 3rd, Dan Fredricks (Land And Resource Engineering), Aaron Snell (Streamside Ecological Services), and Brady Harrington (MI Dep’t of Ag/Intercounty Drains) started at the far NW corner of the Cuddy Drain system and walked the entirety of it, IN the drain!!  (They were also going to drive over and look at the Boot Lake Drain).  The upstream parts are overgrown and there are roads that needed “portaging” – it was NOT an easy trek.   When they arrived at 1st St, Greg Purcell and I joined them for the final wet hike to Patterson.  Being with these guys (who are just super-nice anyway) let me see the Cuddy not just as a lovely little creek running past fields and forests – but almost as a living thing that has reacted to influences (both natural and human-caused) in different ways.  Aaron helped me see that simply exposing the Cuddy to more sunlight to kill E-coli, can create other problems with “understory growth”.  Dan had found old drawings of the original Sand Trap, which he said was very undersized – about 50 cu yds – to handle the volume of sediment the drain carries.  They noted the deterioration of some of the culverts, simply due to old age; and how the culverts are “perched” (eroded banks and bottoms on the outlet side).

After we arrived at the Patterson Bridge, we spoke with Rich and Maxine Beukema for a while about the challenges of living at the outflow of the drain.  Then we went to Greg’s house; hopped on his pontoon boat, and the guys got to see the residential Channel areas firsthand.

I’m sorry I didn’t take pictures – I’m a little hesitant to carry my good camera while hiking in a creek.  I’m posting this just so people can understand that whatever Dan, Aaron, and Brady propose to alleviate the Cuddy’s problems as a part of the Patterson Bridge replacement, will come from first-hand knowledge of the Cuddy.  And that’s a VERY good thing!

Good News For Snowmobilers!

At the Oct 4th meeting of the Yankee Springs Snowmobile Ass’n, Terry Barton said discussions are underway to open the east side of Timber Creek where the culverts were accidentally pulled out (the culverts are intact on the downstream/east side). This will allow snowmobilers to continue to use 1st St as part of the YSSA/MSA Trail System – that’s important because the Allegan Road Commission doesn’t want them using Patterson Rd as an alternate route. There will be a single, snowmobile-wide lane with stop signs at each side, to cross the drain.

Why do you care if you’re not a snowmobiler? It means Allegan will have to remove most of those sand piles/road blocks that are washing into the Cuddy Drain 🙂

I’m doubly-thrilled. Less sediment washing down the drain; and a key portion of a fantastic, state-wide snowmobile trail system remains open!

The Boot Lake Drain

This particular branch of the Cuddy Intercounty Drain has been bugging me all summer.  By the time it shows up at Timber Creek Dr, it’s full of E-coli; and judging from research done a decade ago by a nice guy named Steve Norton /DEQ; it was bugging him, too.  His email to me implied they could never find a specific source of pollution; yet the Boot Lake Drain never reached a “safe” threshold, either.

Enter Liz, Environmental Director for the Gun Lake Tribe.  She granted me access to Boot Lake, so I could take a sample of the water from the lake as it enters the wetlands on the NE side.  The ONLY way to get to this point is by shallow-draft boat – so she and I kayaked!  She also pointed out the restoration-to-natural shoreline the Tribe has been working on; and it was a thrill to be on a truly “wild” and beautiful lake 🙂

Anyway – that water sample completed the series of samples I had collected earlier in the day.  And confirmed what I had suspected:

Cuddy Testpoints Oct1

The clean water from Boot Lake enters the wetland (these features are not drawn onto my map – they lie to the SW of 4th St) – where it stays clean.  Once the water is north of 4th St, it enters shaded forests or tree-lined Ag drains.  Any E-coli washed into the drain from the surrounding farm fields (or from the critters living in the forests) finds a lovely, protective home where it can thrive and reproduce.  By the time the water hits Timber Creek Dr – it’s unsafe.  Again.  (Timber Creek’s E-coli count has been 1000+ CFUs/100ml all summer).  And stay unsafe all the way down the lovely shaded waterway to the Channel.

Ironically, the wetland offers everything the E-coli likes: ample nutrients, sediment, gentle water flow.  But what it also has is sunlight.  A cootie’s worst enemy.

Petrifilms being counted for E-coli colonies

Petrifilms being counted for E-coli colonies

While at first glance, this might look like burgers on the grill – it’s the farthest thing from edible.  These are my Petrifilms on the light box; and the blue dots you might be able to make out are the growing E-coli colonies from my water samples.  Yes – I am washing my hands like a madwoman.

1st St Is A Ticking Time Bomb

Oct1When you first turn onto 1st St, a lovely view comes into sight!  So serene and pretty!

Oct2About halfway down 1st St, the Tawsley/Holbrook Drain comes diagonally across the woods, then parallels 1St St in a relationship that is WAY “too close”.  Right now, there’s minimal flow in this drain – it’s about 2″ deep.  But in the Spring, it can be 2′ to 3′ deep.

Oct3You don’t have to go very far southward on 1st, before you start seeing the “ugly”.  I promise that NONE of the following pictures are of the same sites – the banks of this freshly-cleaned-in-2012 Drain are filled with piles of tree trunks/branches/cut brush, and shredded wood.  And because the banks are steep – there’s erosion in far too many places.  The angle of the bank along the roadway probably should have a guard rail (there’s nothing under a 45-degree angle) – any car hitting this ditch will surely overturn; and if it’s during Spring, the ditch can be filled with deep and fast-moving water.  (I began to label the pictures so I can’t be accused of duplication or using old photos)

Oct4Oct5

Oct4

Oct6

Oct7

Oct8

Oct9

Oct10

Oct11

Oct12The Allegan Road Commission said the road-clearing debris was left behind for the “use of the residents” if they requested it – and I’m sure many folks DID cut up the debris for firewood.  But I’ve met the delightful little lady who owns this property, and I highly doubt she’s going to show up with chainsaw in hand.  Heck – she doesn’t live here and has no way to GET to the woodpile across the drain…

Oct13

Oct14

All we need is a heavy rain, to continue washing all this debris and sediment down the drain……

But here’s the part that makes me sick:  the intersection of the Tawsley/Holbrook Drain from the north and the Cuddy Drain from the west at 1st St.  This damaged-and-now-closed road is just waiting to completely wash out – taking thousands of cubic yards of debris and sand downstream.  Yes, the Allegan Road Commission, the Allegan Drain Commission, and the DEQ are all aware of this.  And in almost 6 months, nobody has done a damn thing about it.  Larry Brown, the head of the Allegan Road Commission says they have applied for FEMA funding to repair the road/replace the culverts.  While that would certainly stop the main road from washing out – it still doesn’t stop the erosion along the Tawsley or the debris that will still wash in.  And I’d be willing to bet that we get a heavy downpour (or ten) long before FEMA coughs up the money to replace the culverts and Allegan mobilizes their repair crews.  Yeah – I’m pretty steamed about this.  Particularly when there are people working for Allegan County who deny that 1st St is a problem??

Oct15

If this was my house, the fine that would be levied against me would be enormous, for not having Silt Fence installed.

Oct16

Oct17The tree trunk shown above is 12″ in diameter.  There is a similar-sized trunk at the bottom of the Cuddy Channel.  Just imagine what would happen if this made it to Gun Lake and was hit by a ski boat???

Oct18The left side of the picture is the 1st St roadbed – just waiting to fall……

Oct19

This culvert section was pulled forward (and upward originally – see pics from the Flood of April 2013 post).  Now the road is starting to collapse behind the culvert.

Oct20

Sadly the camera loses the depth of the angles and many of the details on these photos.  But if you wonder if I’m kidding – see for yourself.  Drive down 1st St from the north (M-179) and see for yourself.  And if you feel moved to send a letter to Larry Brown, Allegan County Road commission, be sure to tell him I said “Hi”.