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Wed, Oct. 16

Column: Community must help with creeks

Granite Creek, our main waterway, and Watson Lake currently are on the Environmental Protection Agency list for not meeting the surface water quality standards because of excessive nutrient and bacteria levels. <i>(Courier file photo)</i>

Granite Creek, our main waterway, and Watson Lake currently are on the Environmental Protection Agency list for not meeting the surface water quality standards because of excessive nutrient and bacteria levels. <i>(Courier file photo)</i>

We Prescott residents are privileged to live in a community rich with natural assets.

Not only do we have breathtaking views of craggy granite formations and forested ridges, but we also have nine named creeks that flow through our city and countless other unnamed washes and tributaries. These natural features add to our city's beauty and charm, attract visitors and new residents alike, and make our quality of life here second to none.

Many may appreciate these watery treasures as they walk or drive about town, but few may realize the challenges facing our creeks. Our creeks and lakes should be fishable and swimmable, but that is not the reality. Granite Creek, our main waterway, and Watson Lake currently are on the Environmental Protection Agency list for not meeting the surface water quality standards because of excessive nutrient and bacteria levels.

Our waterways are not healthy, let alone appealing, to fish or swim in, when they are contaminated with chemicals that have been illicitly dumped down storm drains, choked with algae, or littered with tons of garbage. For such an integral part of our community's identity, how did our waterways get like this?

The answer is complex and, thus, so is the solution. Non-point source pollution - contaminants on the landscape that get picked up by rainfall and snowmelt and carried into our waterways through untreated storm drains - is the number one source of water pollution in the United States, and this is likely the case in the Granite Creek Watershed. Non-point source pollution originates from diffuse sources: urban and residential areas, agriculture, business, construction, and automobiles. We all contribute to non-point source pollution. This means that we all can improve local water quality.

The good news is that we can change our surface water quality. Prescott Creeks Preservation Association has long recognized and promoted the water quality values that our creeks and associated riparian areas add to our community. Through an Arizona Department of Environmental Quality-financed Watershed Improvement Planning grant, Prescott Creeks formed the Granite Creek Watershed Improvement Council to lead the current water quality charge.

The goal of Watershed Improvement Council is to collect information necessary to a better understanding of the sources of nutrients and bacteria in our watershed and to use that data to design projects to improve watershed health and water quality in local streams and lakes.

The key to successful watershed planning is that one entity cannot tackle this complex issue alone; it takes the whole community to improve water quality in the long-term.

Therefore, the Watershed Improvement Council is a collaborative effort between Prescott Creeks, the City of Prescott, Yavapai County, Prescott National Forest, Arizona Department of Transportation, local business and citizens.

The combined efforts of local citizens already have contributed incredibly to watershed planning. Community volunteers of all ages and backgrounds have dedicated their time to the Creek Crew, the citizen group that collects the necessary data to identify the sources of local water quality issues through water quality monitoring and watershed field surveys. Collectively, Creek Crew members have spent 550 hours receiving training and performing tasks for the Watershed Improvement Council. In February and March, the Creek Crew completed two water quality monitoring events. And, if the water continues to flow (and we hope it does!), the Creek Crew will be out along the creeks monthly through the monsoon season collecting water quality data.

At the end of March, Creek Crew members hit the ground again to observe potential water quality impacts along our local creeks. They spent numerous hours in the field, navigating myriad obstacles and exploring the less glamorous stretches of urbanized creeks to map potential water quality impacts.

The efforts of the Creek Crew have helped the Granite Creek Watershed Improvement Council move forward in planning. The council sincerely appreciates the efforts of the Creek Crew volunteers and commends their commitment to the community and enduring enthusiasm.

The council welcomes new additions to the Creek Crew and encourages everyone to get involved. A follow-up to the watershed field survey will occur in the next month to cover more ground. If interested, contact Amanda Richardson at arichardson@PrescottCreeks.org or 445-5669.

Amanda Richardson is watershed program coordinator for Prescott Creeks and member of the Granite Creek Watershed Improvement Council.

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