Water Contamination in Flat Branch Creek an Annual Issue

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COLUMBIA - Dog walkers and bike riders cross paths while moving up and down the sidewalk at Flat Branch Park, which sits on the edge of downtown Columbia near Providence Road. The park is home to diverse foliage, neatly cut grass, a playground and a spray ground, and a creek with various amounts of trash strewn about from end to end.

The Columbia Boone County Health Department of Health and Human Services took water samples from the creek in June, as they do annually, and found amounts of E. Coli and bacteria that exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency's safe levels. A sign creekside notifies park visitors of those levels and warns people to stay out of the water. What the sign doesn't tell visitors is how the levels got so high or how Columbia residents can help to reverse the annual trend of high bacteria levels.

"Traditionally, during the time period that we conduct our sampling, which is predominantly through the summer months... the levels are always elevated and they have been historically for many years," said Kala Gunier, interim environmental health manager for the Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services.

Mike Heimos, Storm Water Educator for Columbia Public Works, said "The levels are high because of people pollution."

That people pollution includes yard fertilizers, trash and improperly disposed pet waste.

"We find this all the time," Heimos said. "[People] take the plastic shopping bag and throw it into the creek and we'll find bags and bags of pet waste... and it ain't pretty."

Flat Branch Creek drains into a watershed of the same name. Watersheds make up the geographical area which drains to a specified point, typically the lowest point in that geographic area. Storm drains located around downtown Columbia are only meant to catch storm water, but because of litter and improperly disposed pet waste, trash and other run-off drain to Flat Branch creek and contaminate the water.

Flat Branch is not frequented as a swimming destination and no ordinance mandates the city the check water samples, but the department tests samples anyway because of the number of people visiting the park for other recreational activities.

"(The) easiest thing you can do to help in your local environment, your local watershed, is just don't pollute... don't litter," Heimos said. "This is the water we swim in, the water we recreate in, and inevitably, the water we drink."

For stormwater resources, visit: http://www.gocolumbiamo.com/PublicWorks/StormWater/

For more information on water sampling, visit: http://www.gocolumbiamo.com/Health/Environmental_Health/lakesamples.php