May 08, 2024 | John Zimmerman

Dave Warners and Gail Heffner holding their new book,
Dave Warners and Gail Heffner recently published "Reconciliation in a Michigan Watershed: Restoring Ken-O-Sha."

Grand Rapids, MI - May, 2024 - Calvin University has long been committed to addressing environmental challenges, particularly those affecting the local watershed. In a significant initiative dating back to 2009, the university has focused efforts on the remediation and education surrounding Plaster Creek, a waterway crucial to the Grand Rapids area.

In a new book, "Reconciliation in a Michigan Watershed: Restoring Ken-O-Sha," Gail Gunst Heffner, emeritus, and David Warners, professor of biology, illuminate the problems of Plaster Creek and similar waterways across the United States and urge readers to consider their roles in environmental stewardship.

Plaster Creek, which drains the watershed where Calvin University is situated, has gained notoriety as the most contaminated stream in West Michigan. The pollution, which comes from various sources including excess fertilizers, salt runoff from parking lots, and drainage from commercial and agricultural areas, poses a significant health hazard due to high levels of E. coli bacteria.

Heffner emphasizes what happens upstream affects downstream communities, with urban areas suffering the brunt of contamination. With deforestation and land development altering the natural landscape for decades, the water runoff into the creek has increased, exacerbating the problem.

In 2009 Heffner and Warners, co-founded Plaster Creek Stewards (PCS)—a collaboration of Calvin faculty, staff, and students that work with local schools, churches, and community partners to restore the health and beauty of the watershed. This initiative highlights the university's response to the Plaster Creek challenge. “Our focus has been on education, research, and restoration,” Warners explains. “Faculty and students are actively studying the issues surrounding Plaster Creek, which informs our restoration efforts. We've implemented various practices, including bioswales and floodplain restoration, to mitigate the impact of stormwater runoff.” In fact to date, PCS has received grants and awards totaling more than $7 million from 15 different federal, state, and local agencies and foundations.

One critical aspect of the university's approach is involving the community. Warners emphasizes, “Our work isn't just cleaning up the creek; it's about changing the relationship between people and the creek as well as between people and their watershed neighbors. We want everyone to understand how connected our actions are to the health of the land, water, and other people.”

The significance of Plaster Creek extends beyond local boundaries. As Heffner notes, “Plaster Creek is upstream from the Grand River, which ultimately drains into Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes system. What happens in our watershed affects millions downstream.”

“This isn't just a local issue; it's a national concern,” Warners asserts. “We hope this book sparks conversations and inspires action far beyond our community.”

Calvin University's dedication to Plaster Creek has been ongoing for over a decade, and as Warners concludes, “It's a long-term commitment, but one that is vital for the health of our watershed and our communities.”

Dig deeper

Learn more about "Reconciliation in a Michigan Watershed: Restoring Ken-O-Sha."

    Join the efforts of Plaster Creek Stewards.

      Discover the why behind Calvin University's commitment to creation care.

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