Public to weigh in on plan to clean up E. coli in lower Bear Creek

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Four years after high levels of E. coli bacteria were first detected in lower Bear Creek, the public will finally get a chance to see the plan for cleaning it up.

draft of the plan is expected to be completed this month and will receive input from the community and other stakeholders before being sent to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment this summer.

Eighteen months ago, nine people representing Lakewood, Denver and Sheridan — the communities through which the creek flows — formed a steering committee to review available water-quality data, devise strategies and write a watershed plan to improve water quality in the creek. The plan is the result of their efforts, said Rachel Hansgen, program manager with Groundwork Denver. The local nonprofit got a grant in 2012 from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to spearhead the effort to clean the 8.2-mile stretch of creek that runs from the east end of Bear Creek Reservoir to its confluence with the South Platte River.

“The state of Colorado has identified that any water body with E. coli contamination has a priority for cleanup,” she said. “Right now we’re only looking at coliform fecal bacteria, which is a marker bacteria that reflects the presence of fecal matter in water.”

The levels found in the creek in 2010 exceeded the standards set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency for recreational water bodies. People have since been warned to be cautious about swimming, fishing or wading in the creek.

Last summer, the steering committee worked with the EPA at 12 in-stream locations and sampled water twice a month.

The monthly average surpassed Colorado’s limit of 126 colony forming units of E. coli that is the threshold for swimming water, said John Novick, an environmental scientist at Denver Department of Environmental Health.

The source of the contamination is unclear. Hansgen said it could be anything from minute leaks in sewer lines, runoff from pet and wildlife waste or septic systems that aren’t properly cleaning the water.

“This is not something we can solve in a two- or five-year period,” Hansgen said. “It’s not just about E.coli. It’s about trash, oil, grease and fertilizers; there are lots of different contaminants that make urban water dirty.”

The steering committee is still working on recommendations on how to clean up the creek as the watershed plan is being written, said Lakewood Ward 3 councilwoman Shakti, who serves on the education and outreach section of the steering committee. She said the plan will also guide requests for state and federal funding.

“Bear Creek is one of the jewels of Lakewood,” Shakti said. “Although we have a lot of ideas on the table and are bringing them together, it hasn’t become concrete yet on how we’re going to proceed.”