Our view: Coulee needs care from community

Herald pull quote, 10/4/19

Cleaning the English Coulee is a messy, nasty job. A group of workers from the Grand Forks County Soil Conservation District undertook the task earlier this week and they found a mass of debris – much of which could have been avoided with better care by Grand Forks residents.

Sure, plastic bottles and cans will make their way into the coulee. Heavy rains and gravity inevitably combine to bring basic waste into any centrally located creek or stream.

But large pieces of foam sheeting? Industrial wood pieces? Basketballs and volleyballs? These are the result of carelessness or, worse, littering.

Plastic – perhaps the most ecologically dangerous of man’s waste – is everywhere.

“Plastic is always on our minds,” Justin Parks, watershed coordinator for the Grand Forks County Conservation Soil District, told the Herald during a cleanup earlier this week.


Fortunately, people like Parks and other public workers are working to keep the coulee relatively clean, even though it’s a massive task. English Coulee may seem like a simple city creek, but it drains a watershed that covers 86,000 acres. It enters town along 17th Avenue South and meanders through central and northern Grand Forks neighborhoods. In a community void of hills and natural forests, the English Coulee is a rare amenity, and it’s the central focus of numerous backyards, parks and UND’s campus. In the winter, kids play hockey on it; in the summer, its bridges and accessibility offer places for walking and photography.

It eventually drains into the Red River, just north of Grand Forks.

Yet its status as a residential waterway – creeping through so many yards and near parking lots – along with a relatively low flow means it is susceptible to pollution. The Soil Conservation District says on its website that the coulee should be maintained to protect its recreational uses, wildlife and habitat. The agency’s goal, Parks told the Herald this week, is to increase awareness of the stream in hopes of eventually improving its water quality.

Along with its accumulation of trash, the coulee has other troubles. The North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality has listed it as “impaired” due to its high nutrient levels and E. coli bacteria.

Two solutions exist.

Property owners can contact the Soil Conservation District to discuss the 319 program, which allows property owners to establish best management practices – riparian work, for instance – to benefit water quality. It comes with a cost to the property owners, but the Soil Conservation District offers a 60/40 cost-share for participants.

Those who aren’t so inclined to pursue the 319 program can help, too, by keeping yard waste away from the water’s edge, limiting fertilizer and ensuring trash – plastics especially – is properly disposed.

The English Coulee is a bit of an enigma. At times, it is a beloved spot of beauty; it also can be smelly, slimy and something of a punchline.


With awareness and work, it can be more of the latter than the former. The English Coulee deserves better care from the community.

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