LEO, Ind. (WANE) — Former Allen County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Ryan has lived in Leo on Cedar Creek for nearly 50 years.

He and his family felt the effects of the Great Flood of 1982 and have explored the history of the 32-mile creek that flows into the St. Joseph River, Fort Wayne’s source of drinking water.

Out his back porch from 100 yards away, he and his wife, Cecelia, can see where the wagon trains used to cross. No kidding.

He’s helped canoeists who’ve been trapped by the fallen logs in the gooseneck curve.

But for last several years, Ryan, who left the bench in 2002, is losing sleep after watching large sycamore trees crash into the creek due to extreme erosion. The space between the back of his home and creek has shrunk about 15 feet from its original 40 feet.

“I used to be able to drive a tractor, a lawn tractor, beyond some of these trees, but they’ve all eroded and you can see what the erosion has done,” pointing to a tree that has started to fall into the creek.

It’s a problem that ultimately affects everyone, says Rodney Renkenberger, executive director of the Maumee River Basin Commission, which is coming to Ryan’s aid. The Maumee River joins with the St. Marys and St. Joseph at the headwaters downtown and ultimately flows north to Lake Erie.

The creek’s erosion is caused by a heavier volume of runoff coming from development in the watershed that covers Allen, Noble and DeKalb counties.

The increased flow and velocity of the river cause a build up of sediment and pollution that degrades water quality.

And it will take money to clean it up.

“You’re looking at a lot of homes being built in the Cedar Creek Watershed right now,” Renkenberger said Monday as he surveyed the creek from Ryan’s property. “And as those developments are completed, I think you’re going to see this thing in a lot worse shape. I can guarantee it.”

More homes generally means more lawn care applications that contain pesticides, herbicides and insectides. Geese droppings have grown exponentially as that population has grown, Renkenberger said, adding contamination in the form of fecal or E. coli bacteria to the water.

There is agricultural runoff, too, that also contains pesticides used in farming, Renkenberger said. But farmers tend to be conservative, only applying what is necessary to control weeds and insects. Renkenberger worries that homeowners don’t read labels and over apply, though.

Ryan reached out to many state and local agencies for help as the vision of his home toppling into the creek became greater. Renkenberger has been the one to work with him on the problem. He arranged for a grant for site and design work to shore up the bank, a project that he foresees becoming more and more common as the erosion takes over the creek.

Because this stretch of Cedar Creek is designated as one of the state’s “natural, scenic and recreational rivers,” with extra protection given it by the state legislature, typical concrete solutions like rip rap, gabions and concrete walls can’t be used to shore up the bank. Environmentalists consider those methods to be detrimental to water quality.

Instead, Renkenberger said bioengineering methodologies will be used like “bringing in some trees and packing them into the bank.” Renkenberger is putting together multiple funding sources to complete the project, he said.

Ryan said he has planted redbud trees and forsythia along the banks to keep them intact, but something more powerful has to be done. He lives with documents in yellowed file folders, trying to preserve what he has for the next generation.

“There’s no specific funding mechanism for maintaining rivers, and natural creeks and drains,” Renkenberger said.

The future lies in controlling development, homeowners reading labels and regional detention ponds that would allow several developments to drain into it.