Mona Lake Watershed Council Aims To Clean Up Former Celery Fields Near Black Creek

Andrew Trzaska | March 29, 2011

The former celery fields on the Black Creek end of Mona Lake may see a revitalization from a local environmental group, and if it goes as planned the fields may be safe for recreation again in several years.

At Monday’s Muskegon Heights City Council meeting, the Mona Lake Watershed Council alerted council members and city staffs of their intention to apply for $1 million in grant funding to reduce levels of phosphorus in the water in the two fields on the east end of Mona Lake near Black Creek.

When researched by Grand Valley State University’s Annis Water Research Institute, the phosphorus levels were deemed many times greater than what is deemed safe for the ecosystem, including humans.

Brenda Moore, Director of the Mona Lake Watershed Council, expressed alarm at these levels at Monday’s meeting.

Several council members and Mayor Darrell Paige joined her concern when it was brought up just how close these fields were to Muskegon Heights city parks.  Plus, Paige pointed out Mona Lake Park could be affected by these fields because they drain into Black Creek, with in turn drains into Mona Lake.

In the Annis study, both the north and south celery fields plus Mona Lake tested above recommended safe levels for phosphorus content. Other local waterways including Little Black Creek and the Muskegon River were deemed safe.

It is believed that because these fields eventually drain into Mona Lake that they are the cause for Mona Lake’s high levels.

How these shallow “muck” fields came to be contaminated so heavily traces back nearly a century, when the fields were used for growing celery.  Phosphorus fertilizers likely raised the levels in the soil; as of 2010, Michigan has banned the use of such fertilizers because of their environmental effects.

Normally, plants take up large amounts of extra phosphorus from soil.  What happened differently in the fields near Black Creek was that when they were no longer used for celery production, they were re-flooded quickly.  

Because of this, no plants were able to grow, throwing this plant-phosphorus relationship out of whack.

With the high levels of phosphorus sitting and not being taken up by plants, large amounts of algae have grown into a thick, soupy mess.  The only creatures able to really thrive in this have been carp.

How the Mona Lake Watershed Council plans to restore the fields is a multi-step process, according to Moore.

First, the pumps that were previously used to drain the fields must be run to reduce the water levels.

This will allow plants to grow, take up some of the excess phosphorus, and then be harvested multiple times, effectively taking the phosphorus out of the fields.
Along the way, the fields will be re-flooded more slowly that before as to allow plants to keep growing.
If the Watershed Council’s grant is approved, the project will go forward with no cost to Muskegon Heights, according to Moore.

Mayor Pro Tem Willie Watson expressed concern as to who would pay to maintain and run the drainage pumps; Moore stated that the grant should cover multiple years of use until the fields are returned to safe levels for animals and recreation.

Monday’s meeting included a vote of support for this project, which was passed unanimously.  No action or increased staffing is required for the Watershed Council to proceed with their plans at this time.

Andrew Trzaska

103.7 “The Beat” – local government beat reporter and political analyst