Monday, December 15, 2014

Getting to clean water: Working together to improve water quality in Clarks Creek

By Sandy Howard, Water Quality Program communications manager
Urban-area Clarks Creek is a tributary of the Puyallup River.

If five species of salmon could put their fins together and clap, they’d be giving a big round of applause for some plans underway for Clarks Creek in the Puyallup River watershed.

The Department of Ecology and local partners have finalized a plan to improve the health of the creek, and a lot of folks will soon be working together to make it happen.

This four-mile spring-fed tributary of the Puyallup River is an important area for salmon. Five salmon species migrate, spawn, and rear in the area.

The health symptoms

A water quality cleanup plan was developed for Clarks Creek because it suffers from low levels of dissolved oxygen and excess sediment. Salmon and aquatic life need oxygen to “breathe.” Sediment clogs gills and smothers fish egg nests.

The root cause of most of the problems is polluted stormwater runoff.

And from bad to worse, the current water conditions foster the overgrowth of the nuisance weed elodea, which creates conditions that harm fish and their supporting habitat.

The creek and its tributaries run through the city of Puyallup and unincorporated Pierce County. People live on the creek and depend on it for fishing, swimming, boating, farming, and its natural beauty. If the conditions in Clarks Creek are ignored, these uses will be lost and fish habitat will slowly disappear.

Cleanup required by law

Federal and state law require the Ecology to develop a plan that will protect the creek, improve its current condition, and get it back to meeting state water quality standards.

The water quality improvement report was developed with help from a group consisting of Pierce County, the city of Puyallup, Puyallup Tribe, WSU Puyallup, local citizens, the state Department of Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Ecology. The group originally formed in May 2009.

The report is now online, and the next step is for EPA to approve the Clarks Creek dissolved Oxygen and Sediment Total Maximum Daily Load report. We have also posted technical documents.

We appreciate all the support this group has provided during the development of the report.

Returning Clarks Creek to healthy conditions that support salmon will require new efforts from all the partners.

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