Spring Creek Watershed

Male Bobolink perced on common milweed in the Spring Creek Watershed
Male Bobolink on Milkweed in Spring Creek. Photo by Stephen Barten, DVM

Spring Creek and its numerous small tributaries drain approximately 26.9 square miles (17,239 acres).  The Spring Creek Watershed is a subwatershed of the Upper Fox River Basin.  As was the case in Flint Creek, prior to European settlement, Spring Creeks ecology was a balanced ecosystem with a diversity native plants, and animals.  With the arrival of settlers, ecological conditions changed dramatically, as prairies were plowed, streams channelized, and wetlands drained for farming.  Urban development’s by-products included streambank erosion, growth of invasive species, degraded stream habitats, nutrient run off, and sediment accumulation.  Water quality declined.

While Spring Creek has not degraded to the extent that Flint Creek has, in part due to the large expanses of both private and public open space.  Most of the open space and 75% of the watershed is located in Barrington Hills.  Spring Creek has benefitted from those large residential lots and the land owned by the Cook County Forest Preserve District.  There are development pressures in the southern portion of the watershed in South Barrington and Hoffman Estates, in the west with Carpentersville, East Dundee, and Algonquin, and in the northern tip of the watershed in Fox River Grove. 

The Spring Creek Watershed is also important as the western portion is a “rapid recharge” area – precipitation infiltration to the shallow aquifers can occur in hours, days or weeks.  This area depends on the network of  shallow aquifers for drinking water.  See more on this in the Groundwater Section. 

The land in Spring Creek was farmed, historically, and is not unscathed.  See the pictures below. 

Does this look “natural”? Once farmland, now degraded, this overgrown savanna and second growth woodland falls far short of a healthy ecosystem.

Channelized stream section:  Forty percent of stream and tributary length is naturally meandering.  37% has been moderatley channelized, while 19% is highly channelized

Problematic streambank erosion generally results when there is highly variable water rate or volume, human alternation such as ditching or change in streambank vegetaion.  Sediment accumulation results, and water quality issues.

As budgets tighten and more and more demands are put on our natural resources, people are recognizing that changing the way “we’ve always done things” to help nature “work” is very cost effective.  As the Lake County Forest Preseve District noted, “Ecosystem services are the collective benefits from an array of resources and processes that are supplied by nature.  Forests, wetlands, prairies, water bodies, and other natural ecosystems support human existence.”  Nowadays there is a growing capability to quantify and reliably assess how nature contributes to human well-being.  Nature provides us these benefits for free.

Balancing the scales of development while protecting nature’s ability to sustain us should engage all of us in developing a “green infrastructure” strategy.  If we own land that borders a creek or lake, we can create a native plantings border that will filter runoff and stabilize banks to improve water quality.  We can keep our wells and septic systems in good working order, with regular maintenance.  By working with our municipalities and our county agencies, we can help preserve open spaces, our watersheds, wildlife habitats, forest preserves, parks, lakes and other important resources.  In Barrington, we can also learn more about these ecosystem services by joining “work days” offered by Citizens for Conservation.  Barrington Area Conservation Trust offers assistance in creating conservation easements, which can also help defray property taxes, as well as protecting open space.  There are many other opportunities to get involved.   

Spring Creek has its own Watershed-Based Plan, which was created in 2012, and a draft update is now available. You can download it here.

The Environmental Protection Agency has reports that the most recent National Water Quality Inventory reports that runoff from urbanized areas is the leading source of water quality impairments to surveyed estuaries and the third-largest source of impairments to surveyed lakes.  Because of impervious surfaces like pavement and rooftops, a typical city block generates more than 5 times more runoff than a woodland area of the same size. 

To protect water quality and groundwater resources, development should be designed and built to minimize increases in runoff.  Villages and other governmental bodies need to hear from citizens that infrastructure and developments should be designed and planned with water protection considerations “baked in.”