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Report: Creek bacteria levels low near Lake O’ the Pines

Report: Creek bacteria levels low near Lake O’ the Pines
Sunday, April 29, 2012 - 5:44pm

Bacteria samples taken from three creeks feeding Lake O’ the Pines showed the lowest readings were where the water neared the reservoir, according to a report Thursday.

The same report, delivered to the Cypress Creek Basin steering committee for the federal Clean Rivers Program, also held the promise of a lowered benchmark for landowners to achieve in the overall quality of creeks and feeder streams.

“Some streams that only cattle will be in, it’s not fair to make those landowners keep those streams up to the condition of swimming water,” Northeast Texas Municipal Water District Manager Walt Sears said. “When we’re looking at those streams, they’re useful and important — just not for swimming.”

Sears made the statements after Randy Rushin, president of Water Monitoring Solutions in Sulphur Springs, reported finding no evidence that Tankersly, Hart and Big Cypress creeks are swimming destinations.

Rushin said the months-long study included on-site inspections and interviews with landowners and game wardens. It also revealed that fishing is rare in the three creeks and supporting network of streams.

The study will be forwarded to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which is reviewing all water bodies to classify each according to its use. Water used for swimming has the highest standards for bacteria, pH factors, oxygen content and other elements, with water considered secondary contact, such as fishing holes, having standards that are more lenient. Those strictly used by wildlife and farm animals have a lower standard to meet before the state takes action.

A related study, Rushin measured E. coli bacteria levels at 16 sites in the three creeks and their feeders leading to the Texas 11 bridge over Big Cypress Creek north of Lake O’ the Pines.

Once adjusted to remove rain events, during which runoff will boost bacteria levels in any stream, the data revealed the third-lowest bacteria levels among the 16 sites were found in the most downstream monitor.

The study reported data as of May 2011, but indicated bacteria levels at the southernmost monitoring station were about two-thirds the average level of samples taken from 1987 to 2007.

The report comes two years after high E. coli bacteria levels caused the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to shut down all Lake O’ the Pines swimming beaches between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.

Rushin offered two theories for the lowered bacteria levels at the downstream monitor.

“It’s probably related to dilution by the time we get to that point,” he said, indicating the rising water volume as Tankersly, Hart and other tributaries merge into Big Cypress Creek.

Much of the bacteria, which have a lifespan of 24 to 48 hours, likely died before reaching the downstream monitor, he added.

Rushin also said chicken litter, which sufficiently polluted the watershed to prompt legislation in the late ’90s, no longer appeared to be a factor in the pollution load.


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