National Geographic : 1996 Feb
Learning to tread softly "Our success is that we still have trout in the streams," says Maureen Kennedy Templeton, drain commissioner of Michigan's Grand Traverse County, which has launched intense efforts to protect rivers and streams in areas like the Mitchell Creek watershed (below). This once rural basin is growing fast as retirees, families, and businesses are lured by its beauty. With them comes pollution. Here's how the creek is coping: MMic itich l Is-th WHEN THE SKY FALLS Though this water shed is free of smoke stacks, lakeside breezes bear the acidic cargo of incin erators and industries from Chicago and Green Bay, as well as nitrogen from car exhaust and phospho rus from windblown soil. Mercury has made fish from inland lakes unsafe to eat. ART BY C. BRUCEMORSER SEPTIC SEEP Like a full sponge, aging septic drain fields-which treat sewage by slow filtra tion-and overloaded sludge-holding tanks can leak bacteria, nitrates, and liquid poisons into ground water. Homeowners with septic systems are urged to pump tanks every two years and avoid pouring paints or solvents into their sinks. LEAFY BUFFERS Lacking a cushion of wetlands, streams can still be partly shielded from runoff. The county calls for a 50-foot setback from lakes and creeks and asks landowners to plant waterside shrubs to trap sedi ments, slow flow, and provide shade and wildlife habitat. NATURAL FILTERS Key to a healthy watershed, low-lying wetlands trap runoff and filter its harmful sediments through natural vegetation. Grand Traverse County requires a 25-foot set back from wetlands and has persuaded many landowners to donate wetland acre age for protection. ON THE FARM As suburban sprawl intensifies, few farms remain near Mitchell Creek. Many of the hangers-on help pro tect the watershed by using a light touch with pesticides and fertilizers, fencing livestock away from streams, and recruit ing benign bugs to eat crop-killing pests. f r'^ 1 -* -- ^:-- *^.-' ^ ;R2!