Restoring Local Creek
Brings Diverse Communities Together
Calvin College faculty are improving the Plaster Creek’s water quality and promoting environmental justice through green infrastructure restoration, biological and social research, and community education.
West Michigan’s Plaster Creek is a 14-milelong creek that flows into the Grand River and eventually Lake Michigan. Stormwater and farm runoff enter the upper portion of the creek, causing bacteria growth to accelerate and reach dangerous levels by the time the water enters Lake Michigan. Plaster Creek consistently has E. coli levels over 50 times higher than the limit for safe human contact making it unsafe for people to swim in or drink from. In 2008, several faculty members from the local Calvin College formed Plaster Creek Stewards to address both stormwater and environmental justice issues. Plaster Creek Stewards identified three primary components for reducing stormwater impacts: green infrastructure restoration that uses native vegetation to absorb stormwater, scientific and social research, and community engagement. Plaster Creek Stewards employs low-income urban high school students who receive both classroom and job experience through assisting with restoration projects. The group is also developing partnerships between upstream and downstream schools along the creek; students from partner schools share their experiences and visit the stream in both locations to observe differences. Plaster Creek Stewards is currently working to develop similar partnerships between upstream and downstream churches. The goal of these efforts is to foster an awareness that the Plaster Creek watershed is an inter-connected social and biological community defined by a common shared resource. Plaster Creek Stewards estimates that it will take 20 to 30 years of concerted efforts with an involved and informed community to undo a century’s worth of river degradation.
Resource Challenges Addressed
- Polluted stormwater runoff
- Water quality degradation
- Sediment build up
- Bacterial contamination
- Environmental injustice
PLASTER CREEK RESTORATION
Location: Grand Rapids, Mich.
Approximate cost: $1,600,000
Key partners: Calvin College, River Network, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
Types of jobs created: University research, excavators, engineers, and general labor
Results and Accomplishments
This project is reducing the harmful impacts of stormwater on this watershed and the people who rely on it. Treating stormwater will reduce the levels of sedimentation, nutrient runoff, thermal pollution, trash, and toxic effluent in the Plaster Creek, restoring water quality and reducing bacterial contamination. This project is also promoting environmental justice by forging partnerships between upstream and downstream communities and fostering a stewardship mentality.