Pollution in Fountain Creek is for the birds
USGS study may actually incriminate winged creatures in failure to meet quality standards


Temporary flooding in a late-May rainstorm off Highway 24 at 26th Street pours into a pipe that goes under the highway and into Fountain Creek on its north side.
Westside Pioneer file photo
Birds are being scrutinized now as suspects in the upper Fountain Creek's failure to meet state water quality standards. But certainty of that or other likely culprits remains elusive near the end of a two-year-plus United States Geological Survey (USGS) study - chiefly funded by local entities - that's had a pricetag of $444,000.
       Methods of mitigating impacts from the local bird population are even being brainstormed; however, it's not clear whether federal regulators would require such steps, according to Rich Muzzy, environmental planning manager for the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (PPACG), and Don Stoeckel, who has been leading the study for the USGS.
       A public meeting to present the study's “final results” is scheduled Wednesday, Sept. 9 at 6 p.m. in the PPACG meeting room, 14 S. Chestnut St., a press release from the regional planning agency states.
       The creek segment in question is between the El Paso County line and the Fountain's confluence with Monument Creek.
       The study was required by the Colorado Health Department, which had placed the standard of 126 E. Coli cells per 100 milliliters of water onto Fountain Creek about three years ago, based on findings that higher cell counts could cause intestinal sickness in anyone immersed in its waters. E. Coli is a scientific term for waste material from humans or animals.
       Summing up the study's results over three summers and two winters of testing, Muzzy said it's been determined that the problems with the E. Coli standard happen almost entirely in the higher-water summer months, that the problems are chiefly found downstream from Manitou, and that human or animal sources are not significant enough to be the main causes. Nor is the pollution resulting from businesses along the creek, he said.
       An early study finding, which received some publicity about a year ago, was a couple of leaking sewage pipes along Ruxton Creek, which feeds into the Fountain. But after these were fixed, the effect on the results was minimal, according to Muzzy.
       However an exact answer remains elusive. “One of the sources could be birds,” Muzzy said. “There have been some birds under the bridges nesting, and we've had sightings in different areas. We're trying to narrow things down and get a better handle on it.”
       No particular type of bird has been identified as notorious in this regard, although pigeons are commonplace. There also are no indications of migratory changes, Muzzy said.
       Mitigation possibilities could focus on places where birds tend to roost - under bridges, for example. “We're looking at ways to minimize the amount of [bird-related] runoff,” he said.
       Asked if perhaps the E. Coli standard has been set too low, Muzzy said he could not say. He referred the question to a specialist with the Colorado Health Department, who was out of the office this week.

Jason Holdredge, a field superintendent and project manager for the Gold Hill Mesa development, checked out a cave-like opening several months ago amid the extensive concrete debris that was left behind when the Golden Cycle company tore down its gold-milling complex about a half-century ago. Much of the concrete is being reused as armoring (to be hidden by several inches of soil) for the creek banks in the current Fountain Creek restoration project.
Courtesy of Barry Brinton

       The USGS' Stoeckel said such a decision would be up to the US Environmental Protection Agency and Colorado Health. But based on a similarly “natural and uncontrollable” situation in another state's waterway, the possibility may exist of changing the creek standard, he said.
       The Fountain Creek 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