Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Water Resources Division September 2018 Report, Indian Mill Creek and Lower Grand River Excerpts


Biological and physical habitat conditions of selected water bodies in the Black River and Galien River watersheds, in Berrien and Van Buren Counties, were assessed by staff of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), Surface Water Assessment Section (SWAS), from August-September 2017. Additionally, fish surveys and contracted sediment testing were performed in a small tributary to the lower Grand River. Biosurveys were performed upstream and downstream of a mass sedimentation event that occurred in a small tributary to the lower Grand River. Finally, a trend site in the upper Grand River watershed, that could not be sampled during the 2016 cycle year, was sampled. The primary objectives of the assessments were to:

  1. Assess the current status and condition of individual water bodies and determine if Michigan Water Quality Standards (WQS) are being met in the Black River and Galien River watersheds.

  2. Satisfy monitoring requests submitted by internal and external customers.

  3. Identify nonpoint sources (NPS) of water quality impairment.

  4. Evaluate biological community temporal trends.

  5. Evaluate biological communities in an unnamed tributary to Lloyd’s Bayou (lower Grand River watershed) following a large sedimentation event.

  6. Evaluate the fish communities, sediment chemistry, and sediment toxicity in Indian Mill Creek (lower Grand River watershed).

  7. Perform a biosurvey at the Cahaogan Creek trend site (upper Grand River watershed) because the site did not have flowing water during the 2016 cycle year.

Watershed Information

Watersheds are defined as the area of land (and water) that flows into a river, lake, or wetland. Watersheds are often separated by a line of higher elevation land, such as a ridge or hills. Hydrologic Unit Codes (HUC) are numeric identifiers that were developed by the United States Geological Survey to standardize nomenclature across the nation. Larger watersheds are identified by HUCs with fewer digits in their identifier. As smaller watersheds are nested within larger watersheds, more digits are added. For example, the Dietz Creek subwatershed (HUC 040500040409) is nested within the Eastern Red Cedar River (HUC 0405000404), which is within the upper Grand River watershed (HUC 04050004).

Land cover can have a significant impact on the quality and condition of surface waters. The 2011-era land cover and other characteristics for sampled Black River and Galien River subwatersheds are shown in Table 1, by 12-digit HUC.

Station Selection

Three stations in the lower Grand River watershed were targeted for sediment sampling and are reported here. Specifically, three sediment samples were taken from Indian Mill Creek in the city of Grand Rapids. The sediment was collected using a PONAR grab sampler, placed in a metal bowl, and homogenized using a metal spoon. A subsample of the sediment was then placed in an 8-ounce glass jar and stored on ice until it was delivered to the Great Lakes Environmental Center Laboratory. At the laboratory, the sediment was analyzed for 34 poly-aromatic hydrocarbons, total organic carbon, and pesticides. Sediment toxicity testing was also performed using Chironomus dilutus and Hyalella azteca. Fish communities at seven sites were also assessed in Indian Mill Creek. Finally, macroinvertebrate communities were assessed at two targeted sites in the lower Grand River watershed after a culvert failure.

Summary of Findings by Monitoring Objective

Objective 1: Assess the current status and condition of individual waters of the state and determine whether Michigan WQS are being met.

A trend site that had to be sampled in the upper Grand River watershed was acceptable. A targeted site in the lower Grand River watershed, an unnamed tributary to Lloyd’s Bayou, had a macroinvertebrate community that scored poor. Indian Mill Creek, lower Grand River watershed, had six stations with fish communities that scored poor. These results will be considered in determining if the OIALW designated use is being met in the 2020 Section 303(d), 305(b), and 314 Integrated Report. The macroinvertebrate community and habitat assessment results are located in Appendix 1 and Appendix 2, respectively. Detailed station descriptions and findings are located in Section 8 of this report.

Objective 2: Satisfy monitoring requests submitted by internal and external customers.

Targeted monitoring requests generated by internal and external customers were approved for 16 stations in the Black, Galien, and lower Grand Rivers watersheds. Detailed station descriptions and findings are provided under Objective 6 (Indian Mill Creek), and in Section 8 of this report. The results of the sediment and fish sampling in Indian Mill Creek have been shared with all interested stakeholders. An unnamed tributary to Lloyd’s Bayou (lower Grand River) was sampled to collect habitat and macroinvertebrate data immediately after a culvert failure that resulted in a large sedimentation event. Stations were sampled immediately upstream and downstream of the road crossing.

Objective 6. Evaluate the fish communities, sediment chemistry, and sediment toxicity in Indian Mill Creek (lower Grand River watershed).

Indian Mill Creek is a tributary to the lower Grand River that flows through Alpine Township, the city of Walker, and the city of Grand Rapids. The lower section of Indian Mill Creek is not attaining its coldwater fishery designation (Rippke, 2011). The lower section of Indian Mill Creek flows through a heavily urbanized section of Grand Rapids. Adjacent to Indian Mill Creek are large auto salvage yards and metal processing facilities. Previous sediment samples collected in 2016 revealed low amounts of poly-aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), but also low amounts of organic carbon. Because of the low amounts of organic carbon for the PAHs to bind to, there was a potential risk to benthic fauna (Parker and Rippke, 2017). Because of concerns about sediment toxicity to benthic fauna, expanded PAH testing, pesticide screening, and sediment toxicity tests were performed on three sediment samples within the city of Grand Rapids: Richmond Dam, Tamarack Avenue NW, and Turner Avenue NW. The sediment results for PAHs are presented in Table 5. The sediment chemistry results were analyzed three different ways using three different lines of evidence: Equilibrium Partitioning Sediment Benchmark Toxicity Units (ESBTU), Probable Effects Concentration Quotient (PEC-Q), and direct toxicity tests. These lines of evidence were normalized based on the total organic carbon content in the sediments, which were 0.9% for Richmond Dam, 1.9% for Tamarack Avenue NW, and 1.3% for Turner Avenue NW. Sediment samples from the three sites were also screened for pesticides, but none were found (Table 6).


ESBTU for the 34 PAHs at the Richmond Dam, Tamarack Avenue NW, and Turner Avenue NW stations were 1.06, 0.98, and 1.98, respectively. Typically, a PAH ESBTU less than, or equal to, 1 indicates that benthic organisms are not expected to be harmed by contamination present in the sediments (United States Environmental Protection Agency [USEPA], 2003). This would suggest that the current concentrations of PAHs may be having detrimental effects on the benthic communities.


The PEC-Q calculation results in a risk to benthic fauna if the value is greater than 0.5, which is equivalent to 64% to 94% of the organisms not showing a toxic effect. Because the PECPAH values for the Richmond Dam, Tamarack Avenue NW, and Turner Avenue NW stations were 0.19, 0.22, and 0.37, respectively, we do not expect a detrimental effect on the benthic community based on those calculations.

Sediment toxicity testing

Laboratory sediment toxicity testing did not find any significant mortality in Chironomus dilutus in the 10- and 20-day tests. Chironomus dilutus growth was only reduced in the 10-day test group in the Richmond Dam sediment. Otherwise, growth was not affected among Chironomus dilutus groups. Hyallela Azteca survival and growth were reduced in sediments from all three sites. When analyzing the three lines of evidence for the organic contaminants, two out of three suggested that there could be detrimental effects on benthic invertebrates (Tables 5 and 7). Future monitoring will focus on a tributary stream that drains the Folkertsma superfund site above the Richmond Dam.

Fish sampling

Seven different sites in Indian Mill Creek were sampled for fish in July 2017 (Figure 4). Only one station, 3 Mile Road, scored acceptable. The rest of the stations scored poor for the fish communities (Appendix 3). Most of the stations that scored poor did so because less than 50 individuals were collected at a station. Only at the two furthest upstream sites were more than 50 individuals collected. These results were consistent with past fish surveys of Indian Mill Creek. Rockafellow (2005) only collected 41 individuals at Richmond Park in 2004. Rippke (2011) only collected 36 individuals at Richmond Park and 121 individuals at 3 Mile Road in 2009. Interestingly, Salmonids were collected at all sites; however, because of the low numbers of fish collected, Indian Mill Creek continues to not attain its coldwater fishery designated use. A thorough evaluation of Indian Mill Creek by Myers et al. (submitted) details how a gradient of agricultural land use in the headwaters to dense urban land in the lower reach affects the biological communities. Myers et al. (submitted) related the fish data collected for this report with chemical/physical data that were also collected during 2017. The Indian Mill Creek fish community appeared to be largely structured by stream temperature and flow regimes. Salmonids, white sucker (Catostomus commersonii), and bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus) were associated with stable, coldwater reaches, while small Cyprinids and Johnny darter (Etheostoma nigrum) were associated with higher temperature reaches. The fish community in the small dam impoundment was more similar to the community in the slow-flowing, lower stream reach, near the confluence with the Grand River, suggesting that the dam may be artificially affecting the fish community.

Indian Mill Creek also has a history of episodic pollution events. The most notable one occurred in 1998 when ammonia refrigerant was accidentally discharged into it near Bristol Avenue NW. This resulted in a complete fish kill in the lower 3 kilometers of the stream (Hanshue, 1998). A review of the MiWaters Explorer Web site (https://miwaters.deq.state.mi.us/nsite/) revealed that in the last decade 16 facilities in the Indian Mill Creek watershed have been cited either for spilling hazardous materials or illicitly discharging hazardous materials into the creek. The latest illicit discharge incident that was reported in October 2017, involved the discharge of foam adhesive waste into Indian Mill Creek at Alpine Avenue NW. The volume of waste being discharged into the stream was great enough to discolor the entire stream. There may also be other illicit discharges in the Indian Mill Creek watershed that have not been discovered. The episodic pollution events likely affect the fish communities either through direct mortality or causing them to seek refuge in non-polluted areas. Episodic pollution events may be one explanation for the consistently low fish collections below 3 Mile Road. Within the Indian Mill Creek watershed both land use and in-stream changes have either occurred or have been proposed. Two large auto salvage yards that were located near Indian Mill Creek have recently closed and contaminated soil has been removed and improved drainage patterns implemented. A metal processing plant that is adjacent to Indian Mill Creek, and that had been cited twice for discharging petroleum products into the creek has also closed down, the city of Grand Rapids is planning on removing the low head dam near Richmond Park, and a large grant was recently awarded to the Grand Rapids Metropolitan Council to implement best management practices in the agricultural headwaters of the stream. Future monitoring of Indian Mill Creek sites is recommended during the 2019 lower Grand River cycle year.

Future Monitoring Recommendations

SWAS staff recommend the following sampling be conducted in future years:

  • Sediment were sampled and analyzed for PAHs in a tributary to Indian Mill Creek that drains the Folkertsma superfund site in 2018. Macroinvertebrate sampling will take place in several locations throughout Indian Mill Creek.

See full report below for references.