July 31, 2008

Burnt Bridge Creek Water Quality Studied

By Laura McVicker, The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash.

Jul. 31--Significantly higher-than-normal water temperatures and low oxygen levels in Burnt Bridge Creek have prompted a $500,000 state study to find ways to improve the creek's water quality and fish habitat.

The creek is among the worst in Southwest Washington when it comes to meeting the state's water quality standards. Fecal coliform, which has been found in high levels, poses health risks to humans; the warm water endangers the creek's fish wildlife, according to Tonnie Cummings, the Department of Ecology's water cleanup coordinator.

"We don't know what the sources are in this case," Cummings said. "But, hopefully, the study will help us identify those."

The first part of the testing began this week. It included the release of a fluorescent dye into the stream Tuesday night to monitor water flows. The harmless dye dissipated within minutes, and allowed scientists to gauge how long it takes water to flow downstream as a way of pinpointing water temperatures. Researchers tracked the plume of dye with a fluorimeter, a device that measures intensity of radiation.

Following this dye release, scientists will be on site to test the water's oxygen levels and examine factors that could lead to higher water temperatures, such as the lack of shade around the creek.

The second part of the dye testing will be in September.

This testing is part of an ongoing remedy to an ongoing pollution problem in Burnt Bridge Creek. The stream, Cummings said, ranks at top of the DOE's list of polluted waterways in Clark, Skamania, Lewis, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties. That's largely because of heavy development surrounding the creek.

Each year, federal and state authorities allocate money for the testing and cleanup of waterways such as Burnt Bridge Creek that aren't meeting the standards of the federal Clean Water Act or the state's water quality standards.

In the past, DOE officials have conducted similar studies of Salmon Creek and Gibbons Creek in Washougal, Cummings said.


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