UNION TOWNSHIP – Clearing Feeder Creek nearly a mile upstream will have a positive effect on all of Buckeye Lake, said George O’Donnel, of the Buckeye Lake for Tomorrow Watershed Group, a partnership of individuals and organizations dedicated to improving water quality in the Buckeye Lake Watershed.
Buckeye Lake State Park Manager Tim Waln said two work crews of seven people each spent a week earlier this month clearing the creek bed and its embankments of debris between Swamp Road and the Kirkersville Cemetery. The project will help increase water flow into Buckeye Lake; Feeder Creek, as its name implies, is a major Buckeye Lake water source. “This is probably Step One of many more things to do,” he said. “There’s a lot of debris in that area to be trimmed and cleared.”
Waln said the property, which is owned by the state is now to be managed by ODNR’s Division of Ohio State Parks. “The trees and the growth are a concern,” said Waln. The state’s Recovery Conservation Corps sent the crews to Feeder Creek via the Muskingum County Watershed District.
“It requires a lot of manpower to clear,” said Jason Schroeder, Muskingum County Summer Youth Program project director. He said the crews worked on various local projects all summer, and federal funding allowed them to continue working into the winter months. The Feeder Creek project, which concluded Dec. 11, is probably the program’s final for the year. “This should have a big impact on the creek,” said Schroeder.
O’Donnell said deep sediment has restricted the creek’s flow for more than 25 years.
South Fork Licking Watershed District Director Dan Bolger said clearing Feeder Creek is just one of many actions needed to increase sustainable practices around Buckeye Lake to ensure clean water. He said Feeder Creek is filling with silt and is no longer able to provide its original flow into Buckeye Lake. “Ultimately, we must look at the entire Buckeye Lake watershed,” said Bolger, adding that Feeder Creek blockage also reduces diversion of water from county-maintained ditches.
O’Donnel agreed that another issue at hand is the Licking County maintained ditch that flows eastward from a diversion dam, which is east of Kirkersville Cemetery. He said Feeder Creek blockage creates an overburden on the ditch because there is no flow through Feeder Creek. The situation creates flooding in farm fields as the deep ditch overflows. Additionally, said O’Donnel, the ditch runs directly into the South Fork of the Licking River creating a burden on the flow of water from the Waste Weir Run from Buckeye Lake Village as well as the Seller’s Point Spillway. He said if Feeder Creek flow is restored the circulatory flow of water would reduce the burden on the ditch and very possibly reduce flooding near I-70 west of Ohio 79.
In the larger picture, O’Donnel said increasing Feeder Creek’s flow would provide more oxygenated water to Buckeye Lake, which could drastically improve wildlife health and diversity.
Licking County Environmental Planner Jim Mickey said Feeder Creek restoration could potentially enhance Buckeye Lake’s overall water quality, resulting in cleaner water flowing from Seller’s Point, Waste Weir Run, and other outlets. “Basically, it could enhance the circulating of the lake waters instead of leaving them typically stagnant,” he said, “or, it’s like gradually changing the bath water in the tub.”
Mickey said he’s concerned about water quality decline over time, which has typically and historically resulted in summer algae bloom and dieback. He said bloom and dieback consume dissolved oxygen in the water, which kills fish. “Basically, the fish suffocate and die,” he said, not to mention the smell and the waste of sport fishing resources.
Decreased water clarity also concerns Mickey. “Who really wants to boat, or swim and water ski, if you can’t see your feet?” he said. “White swim wear becomes colored brown many times at Buckeye Lake.”
Mickey said poorly oxygenated water could lead to decreased aquatic vegetation (food, space, and ultimately cover = hunting (predator), escape (prey), loafing (resting), breeding (mating), brood (raising young), travel lanes, etc.) and a habitat reduction for many species of fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles, insects, and other species. “It is the web of life thing, of which we humans are just a part,” he said.
Finally, Mickey said poorly oxygenated water could cause a loss of outdoor recreational opportunities for a variety of customers and lake uses, decreased tourism, decreased revenue for area businesses, decreases in tax revenue for various government entities. “Also, the efforts are being undertaken as far as getting baseline and additional ongoing water quality monitoring samples to provide scientific observational data, which can be useful in future mitigation and decision making efforts,” he said.
Mickey said there is always an educational component to environmental projects like the Feeder Creek clearing, which can lead to enhanced public awareness, information, and understanding on a variety of interrelated topics such as overall lake management, water quality issues, and what not to dump in the lake and why. “As with any mitigation or intervention, a good understanding of the actions and results, or benefits and costs, is important for good overall project management,” he said.
O’Donnel hopes the Feeder Creek project will usher in a new era of closer cooperation between Buckeye Lake for Tomorrow, the Muskingum County Watershed District, the South Licking Watershed District, and ODNR.