Jump to main content or area navigation.

Contact Us

Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Michigan: Kearsarge Creek/Scales Creek

Stabilizing Stamp Sand Deposits and Streambanks Improve Water Quality and In-stream Habitat

Waterbody Improved

  Historic copper mining activities deposited mounds of fine-grained rock waste—also known as stamp sands—into the stream channels and floodplains of Kearsarge Creek and Scales Creek. Runoff from these stamp sands resulted in impaired aquatic macroinvertebrate communities and elevated water column copper concentrations, which led Michigan to list a combined segment of these waterbodies on its 2002 and 2004 303(d) list. Capping and stabilizing two large stamp sand deposits has decreased copper concentrations and improved the macroinvertebrate community enough that these impaired miles will be nominated for removal from the 2008 303(d) list.
Contact:

Bill Taft
(taftw@michigan.gov)
MIDEQ Water Bureau
517-335-4205



Figure 1. Kearsarge Creek before and after restoration.
Picture shows a damaged, non-vegetated streamchannel.

Before: Stamp sand deposits cover streambanks and riparian area.

Picture shows a revegetated stream channel.

After: Removal of upstream stamp sand source allows revegetation of streambanks and riparian area.



Figure 2. Scales Creek before and after restoration.
Picture shows a damaged, non-vegetated streamchannel.

Before: Stamp sand deposits cover streambanks and riparian area.

Picture shows a revegetated stream channel.

After: Habitat improves once stamp sand source is removed and streambanks and riparian area are stabilized.

 

Problem

Kearsarge Creek and Scales Creek are headwater tributaries to Houghton County's Trap Rock River in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. All three waterbodies are on Michigan's 303(d) list for excessive copper concentrations and poor biota. The 3.5-mile impaired segment of Kearsarge Creek/Scales Creek includes a portion of Kearsarge Creek upstream of where it flows into Scales Creek, as well as the lower portion of Scales Creek to its confluence with the Trap Rock River.

Copper mining operations dating from the 1860s deposited tons of fine-grained mine tailings in the floodplains of these streams, and decades of water and wind erosion have transported large quantities of these stamp sands into the stream channel and floodplain. These mineral-rich, fine-grained particles degrade aquatic life in the streams by (1) burying in-stream habitat features and (2) leaching copper into the water column. Bioassays performed in the early 1990s demonstrated that water from these headwater streams exceeded state water quality standards for copper. Biological surveys conducted at the same time found that excessive sedimentation caused degraded in-stream habitat and impoverished fish and benthic macroinvertebrate communities.

Project Highlights

Project partners isolated two areas of stamp sand deposits from the streams by stabilizing the stream banks and capping and revegetating the upland areas. The Houghton/Keweenaw Conservation District stabilized one 2.5-acre deposit in the Kearsarge Creek watershed in 1998 (Figure 1). U.S. EPA stabilized another 19-acre deposit along Scales Creek in 2005 using Superfund Program funds (Figure 2).

Results

The Kearsarge Creek project stabilized a 2.5-acre stamp sand deposit and triggered natural revegetation downstream. This improved the in-stream habitat conditions and benthic macroinvertebrate communities. In-stream copper concentrations fell by a factor of 10, total macroinvertebrate taxa tripled, sensitive macroinvertebrate taxa (mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies, also known as EPT) returned, and the in-stream habitat assessment noted steadily less sediment deposition between 1991, 2001, and 2006 (Table 1). Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MIDEQ) uses a macroinvertebrate community scoring procedure to identify impaired waterbodies. Possible scores range from -9 to +9; a score of less than -4 is considered unacceptable. Macroinvertebrate scores improved from a score of -7 in 1991 to +2 and +1 in 2001 and 2006, respectively.

The Scales Creek project stabilized 19 acres of stamp sand deposits and restored 1,205 linear feet of Scales Creek streambank. MIDEQ noted measurable improvements within one year of this project's completion; between 1991 and 2006 in-stream copper concentrations deceased slightly, total macroinvertebrate taxa increased by 40 percent, sensitive macroinvertebrate taxa doubled, and in-stream habitat features such as substrate embeddedness and sediment deposition improved substantially (Table 2). Macroinvertebrate scores, as determined by MIDEQ's scoring procedure, improved from 0 in 1991 to +4 in 2006. MIDEQ expects scores to continue to improve as biota colonizes the improved habitat. Given the positive results from both projects, MIDEQ expects to remove Kearsarge Creek/Scales Creek from the state's 303(d) list by 2008. MIDEQ will survey the creeks again in 2011.

Partners and Funding

In 1998 MIDEQ provided $44,359 in section 319 funds to the Houghton/Keweenaw Conservation District for the Kearsarge Creek restoration. EPA's Superfund Program restored the Scales Creek site in 2005 at a cost of $373,000 (including a 10 percent match from Michigan). Section 319 also funded the pre- and post-restoration water and biological surveys in both streams.

 

Table 1. Monitoring data from Kearsarge Creek, before and after stamp sand stabilization
Year Copper (μg/L) Macro-
invertebrate taxa
EPT taxa* Score
(-9 to +9)
Habitat category Embed-
dedness
Depth regime Sediment deposition
1991 125 3 0 -7 Fair 6 6 8
1998 Stamp sands stabilized
2001 34 12 6 +2 Good 10 13 8
2005 12 12 3 +1 Good 11 14 17
*EPT = mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies—three orders of pollution-sensitive aquatic insects that are common in the benthic macroinvertebrate community.
Table 2. Monitoring data from Scales Creek, before and after stamp sand stabilization
Year Copper (μg/L) Macro-
invertebrate taxa
EPT taxa* Score Habitat category Embed-
dedness
Depth regime Sediment deposition
1991 31 15 5 0 Poor 5 6 2
1998 Stamp sands stabilized
2001 27 16 7 0 Good 8 12 8
2005 23 21 10 +4 Good 15 12 13

Top of page


Jump to main content.