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Cleaning Yellow Creek wouldn't abate flooding, but would alter the creek's character

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Poland Village Council's proposal to alleviate flooding along Yellow Creek by "cleaning" the debris from the creek bed is unlikely to solve the flood problem and has adverse environmental consequences. During major flood events, only a small fraction of the total stream flow is contained within the stream bed itself and of that flow only a fraction is impeded by logs and other natural debris. Removing this debris would not significantly reduce the severity and frequency of major acute floods. It would have a marginal effect on low level flooding, but the hastening of the flow of water through Yellow Creek would exasperate the flood conditions down stream including along the Mahoning River.
The long term solutions to flooding along Yellow Creek and other streams in the Mahoning Valley is not cleaning, channelizing, straightening, or other actions designed to move the water more rapidly downstream. Quite the contrary, the solution is to retain the water longer on the watershed through reforestation, wetland restoration, protecting the riparian and flood plain zones with woody vegetation, and a reduction in the area of impervious surfaces. Of course the ultimate solution to reducing damage caused by floods simply is not to build on the flood plain.
The downside to cleaning Yellow Creek by removing logs and other natural debris is loss of stream quality. Streams are dynamic entities, constantly changing.
Nearly all of the food for the animals living in Yellow Creek comes from vegetation growing along the banks and on the flood plain. Tree leaves, tree trunks, and tree branches fall or are carried into the stream where they are slowly decayed by fungi and bacteria. Insects, crayfish, and a host of other creatures feed on the decaying vegetation. These detritus feeders are in turn eaten by fish, other stream predators, forest animals (raccoons, mink, etc.), and birds (kingfishers, Great Blue Herons, etc.) Removal of the debris from Yellow Creek not only reduces the habitat diversity of the creek but it also reduces the food supply for stream dwelling animals and the forest creatures that eat them. That fallen log is not any eyesore or impediment to stream flow; it is the home and pantry for thousands of stream creatures.
Cleaning Yellow Creek is not the solution to the persistent flooding problems. The reduction of diversity and abundance of the aquatic and forest animals that depend on the creek resulting from "cleaning" the debris from the creek channel would make Yellow Creek a less interesting place to visit and contemplate, reduce its effectiveness in pollution abatement, and thereby lessen its value to the citizens of Poland Village.