By Ranger Steve Mueller
A grand saga in the headwaters of nature’s water flow begins where streams first gather water in rivulets. Springs seep from Ody Brook’s stream bank (here in Cedar Springs) creating channels full of aquatic life year around. Upstream, the creek will sometimes extend a mile in meanders like wild strands of hair with split ends. By August no water is found in rivulets upstream except immediately following a heavy rain.
It is my joy and privilege to live where perennial flow starts and holds a wonderland of life. The flow slows to a trickle in the year’s driest weeks but I have stood chest deep in water after 12 inches of rain gathered on the floodplain one fall nearly 25 years ago. Water flooded portions of streets, homes and some businesses in town that year but in spring brings good flow that annually allows trout to migrate in cold water upstream to Ody Brook.
Water will normally rise and fall a foot or two in headwaters, but downstream, runoff from surrounding land regularly creates wide fluctuations in flow. Homes along the Grand River become threatened and inundated when water leaves our small community’s landscape and from neighboring communities to jointly create floodwaters. Water races from impervious roofs, driveways and through drain tiles buried in farm fields in braided streams rapidly increasing flow in rivers. People that live downstream and buy farm crop produce area farms. They also unexpectedly receive increased floodwater from farm fields lined with drain tiles and from added impervious roof, drives, and parking lots.
Birds nesting on the ground or low in streamside shrubs do not foresee coming floodwaters and often lose their homes and offspring. Mice and other mammals nesting streamside lose choice real estate and their families when it becomes necessary to swim for high ground. Increasingly people are forced to higher ground along the downstream rivers when more land in upstream communities is covered with impervious surfaces, filled, or drained. Communities sometimes recognize the impact of development and work to reduce negative impacts for downstream neighbors.
A few years ago the township recognized the value of breaking drainage tiles in abandoned farmlands east of town that were originally wetlands. When drain tiles were installed, native wetlands disappeared along with ducks, geese, kingfishers and other water-loving animals. With that drainage, nature’s flood control was reduced. The recent breaking of drain tiles allowed water to return to former wetlands and was quickly homesteaded by descendents of long dead relatives that had made the wetland home decades earlier. Bird watchers, duck hunters, and the many who revel in the sound of wings, quacks, honks, and frog songs find headwater restoration good. It helps prevent wild water fluctuations downstream and saves the lives of birds, mammals, insects, many plants, and reduces the flood hazard for people living downstream.
Some prefer foregoing flood protection for downstream wildlife or human inhabitants in preference for creating drier fields to grow produce to feed an ever-growing human population. More than 50 percent of Michigan’s wetlands have been drained to meet human wants so the battle of land stewardship continues regarding protection or elimination of wetlands.
Many prefer to share space and time with wild creatures and to protect human and wildlife homes from human caused flooding. In headwaters where I live, wood ducks, green herons, green frogs, and even trout thrive. The trout are limited to spring high water and move downstream during drier summer conditions. The upland and stream floodplain are now full of wild life that rejuvenates my spirit. I write wild life instead of wildlife because wild creatures now live here that could not when a previous owner cared for the land. Back then most of the upland was mowed and the vegetation on the floodplain was cleared to stream’s edge. Today, mowed areas have been reduced so wild plants reclaimed the landscape allowing life that is wild to return to native Nature Niches found here decades ago.
Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the firstname.lastname@example.org Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.
Or call 616-696-1753.