Fish and micro-organisms can find fair to excellent habitats in Mill Creek and the streams leading into it, according to a recent study.
The 2012 Mill Creek Watershed Habitat Assessment was released last week, said Stephanie Dyer, environmental program manager for Eastgate Regional Council of Governments.
Eastgate and Mill Creek MetroParks assessed the habitat conditions of 13 stream sites within the Mill Creek watershed, using a grant from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Dyer said.
The Ohio EPA’s habitat-evaluation index is one of five factors used to determine the integrity of a water resource.
The sites ranged from the headwaters in Columbiana County to tributaries in Mill Creek MetroParks in Youngstown.
During the survey, factors such as erosion, stream direction and substrate — rock types in the habitat — were given numerical values and correlated with scores ranking as very poor to excellent. The results ranked the 13 streams as fair to excellent.
Ax Factory Run at Cohasset Drive had the highest overall habitat score, while Mill Creek at Calla Road in the Beaver Township had the lowest score.
Mill Creek at Calla Road, however, scored lower partially because of erosion, said Kirsten Peetz, environmental land manager for the MetroParks.
The creek “cuts into the banks, and all the sediment gets deposited downstream. That’s why the scores are so low in habitat. There are not a lot of cobbly, rocky or gravely bottoms. Everything is covered in silt, and not a lot can live,” Peetz said.
She said this partially can be attributed to past efforts to rechannel Mill Creek to accommodate agricultural land uses.
“They straightened Mill Creek, and that in and of itself causes a lot of erosion issues. The stream wants to meander back and forth because that’s the natural stream pattern,” Peetz said.
The habitat assessment will be given to the Ohio EPA as background data and can be used in watershed planning. Peetz said the habitat conditions still will be monitored.
“Lower [habitat index] scores getting higher, that’s what we want to see. Scores going down can alert us to a problem that we’ll need to address,” she said.