In 2003, Calvin College
biology professor Dave Warners and his kids were walking along Plaster Creek
and saw a man catch a salmon in the creek's polluted waters. Warners says he realized then that the danger level of the pollution is a social justice issue, not just an environmental one, because that man was going to take that salmon home and feed it to his family.
Plaster Creek Stewards, a region-wide effort to reverse the pollution in the creek's watershed, got a big boost recently with a Department of Environmental Quality grant of $375,622
awarded to Calvin College.
Several community partners will share the monies to improve the watershed: West Michigan Environmental Action Council, Kent Conservation District, the Kent County Drain Commission, the Center for Environmental Study, the City of Grand Rapids, Kent County Parks Department and Calvin College.
The Plaster Creek Watershed runs from creek headwaters near Dutton to the creek's entry into the Grand River just south of downtown Grand Rapids.
Professor Warners is part of the Plaster Creek Stewards leadership team, along with Gail Heffner and Nathan Haan, both of Calvin College. The college's campus lies along a portion of the creek.
"People should avoid Plaster Creek," Warners says. "It's carrying a high level of E. coli (Escherichia coli) and other bacteria that would elicit human health complications. It's a mistake to think that even with this amount of money we're going to be able to make vast improvements. Because of all the development and neglect of this creek, each year it has gotten worse. A big part of the pollution is stormwater runoff."
The funding will pay to create four bioswales at different points along the creek, to increase awareness of pollution practices by residents and businesses in the Plaster Creek Watershed, and to fund faculty and student research. It will also pay for ongoing research to determine where the E coli originates.
An oral history research project will collect stories from watershed residents of the past 60 years to help students understand what the watershed used to be like and create a vision for the future.
"I'm looking forward to the day when the creek is not worse, and then we can turn this thing around," Warners says. "This grant gives me a lot more hope that that day is closer."
Source: Dave Warners, Calvin College
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor