Birds and Fountain Creek... Now what?

       What to do about the birds near Fountain Creek?
       Nobody really knows. But other studies appear likely to follow up the now-completed $444,000 United States Geological Survey (USGS) study that used process of elimination to point a claw at pigeons for the creek's frequent summertime failure to meet the federal/state E. Coli standard between Manitou Springs and its Monument Creek confluence.
       In the meantime, with mitigation a mystery, no penalties will be levied on the region, according to Rebecca Anthony of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's Water Quality Control Division. In fact, the creek's continuing state of “impairment” may even be an advantage, by making it eligible for grants to examine the problem further, she said. The final public meeting on the 2 ½-year study was held before a small audience at the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (PPACG) conference room Sept. 9.
       What failing to meet the E. Coli standard means is that anyone deciding to take a plunge in the creek risks getting sick, according to the presentation by Don Stoeckel, the Ohio-based USGS microbiologist who has been leading the study effort.
       The study did not scrutinize how great a chance that is, but Anthony said it's 8 in 1,000. This rate is taken from a 1986 epidemiological analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that led to the current E. Coli standard for “primary contact” streams such as Fountain Creek, she said. It's not that so many people swim in the creek, but that there are so many access points that make it possible for people to do so, explained Anthony, who attended the meeting.
       E. Coli is a scientific term for waste material from humans or animals.
       Stoeckel said the belief going in had been that E. Coli in a creek flowing through an urban area would surely be human-caused. But repeated testing data negated that premise. And, when results from pets or other four-legged animals also failed to exceed the standard, the study turned to birds. The problem is especially noteworthy in Manitou Springs, Stoeckel said, where flocks of pigeons particularly roost under its several bridges.
       However, he added the caveat that the science used in differentiating E. Coli sources is “young,” and it cannot be stated with 100 percent certainty that birds are the one and only reason for the creek exceeding the standard. “The possibility always exists that there might be some other animal,” he said.
       The USGS study, which considered the waterway from Green Mountain Falls to Monument Creek was jointly funded by the USGS, Colorado Springs, Springs Utilities and the Health Department. It was not intended to offer recommendations for creek management, but “I hope this will help water resource managers make efficient decisions,” Stoeckel said.
       Rich Muzzy, environmental planning manager for the PPACG (the regional planning agency), said that without funding to continue the study, the entities involved are considering some types of low-cost analysis that could occur in the near future, perhaps using interns to further examine the suspected bird-pollution issues along Fountain Creek downstream from Manitou. Anthony said the Health Department will also be involved. Even if no immediate action is called for, “it's a high priority” for the Health Department, she said. “It will not be forgotten.”

Westside Pioneer article