Creek study still inconclusive; info from citizens sought

       Last summer two small sewage leaks were found, one on Fountain Creek and another on Ruxton Creek, which feeds into the Fountain. But neither was a factor (both have since been fixed) in a United States Geological Survey (USGS) creek sampling Oct. 22 that showed E. Coli readings three times higher than the state health standard, according to Don Stoeckel, a USGS microbiologist.
       Even when the sewage problems existed, their effects on creek water quality were so minor as to be “negligible,” he said. Yet despite the lack of “major sources,” some parts of the creek - not always the same parts - routinely exceed the level of 126 cells per 100 milliliters of water, he added.
       Such are the mysteries that the USGS, working with state and local specialists, are hoping to solve in a $444,000, three-year study of Upper Fountain contamination that is entering its second year. The area being studied is from Green Mountain Falls to Fountain's confluence with Monument Creek.
       Stoeckel gave a presentation of the current USGS findings at a public meeting Jan. 24, coupled with an appeal for citizens to step forward who might have information on pollution sources. Those with information can call the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (PPACG) at 471-7080 x127.
       E. Coli is a scientific term for bacteria found in animal or human waste material. The 126-cell level is so rigid that a person can't even see the contaminants in water. But if they come from a sick person or animal, chances are that such an amount would be enough to similarly infect a person swimming in or drinking from the creek downstream, Stoeckel explained.
       There are political incentives for addressing the problem. Being in violation of the standard puts the upper Fountain in violation of Section 303d of the Federal Clean Water Act. Also, Pueblo leaders have complained that Colorado Springs is responsible for the dirty Fountain Creek water that's flowing through their town.
       One aspect researchers hope to determine soon is whether the chief culprits are animals or humans, he told meeting attendees. Right now, the only consistencies are that most of the higher readings have been downstream from Manitou and have tended to occur in warmer months when the water is running higher.
       Starting last May, researchers have sampled the creek 11 times. They have set up 16 “normal” sampling sites (14 on Fountain Creek and 2 on Ruxton, which is the Upper Fountain's main feeder).
       Despite last year's sewage issue, Ruxton Creek is “not the whipping boy,” as Stoeckel put it at the meeting. He cited a Dec. 7 sampling effort in which “one site on Ruxton Creek was above the standard but four sites on Fountain Creek [downstream] were below the standard.”
       After establishing a data “baseline” last year, including the most effective sampling locations, Stoeckel said that testing is continuing on a monthly basis through the winter and will occur roughly biweekly in the summer.
       The study is a team effort by Colorado Springs Utilities (paying $134,000 of the total cost), the City of Colorado Springs ($20,000), the Colorado Health Department ($100,000) and the USGS ($190,000).

Westside Pioneer article