Monday, July 12, 2010

Dirty Water

This week the City Council takes up the issue of algae bloom in Willow and Watson Lakes as well as the state of the creeks that feed them, and following up on Cindy's story yesterday, the Courier weighs in with an editorial and an LTE from Paul Peterson.

It's not news to anyone who's paying attention that the creeks and lakes are in pretty rough shape. How anyone can think it's a good idea to swim in them is beyond me. It's also no surprise that in talking about weeds and algae, both Council and the editor are focusing on a surface symptom that speaks volumes about much bigger underlying challenges.

I forget just how long it's been, maybe thirteen or fourteen years, since the county allowed the lakes to go dry and buddy Ross and I hiked across Watson from the boat ramp to the dam. But I clearly remember how ugly it was and must remain down there. As we stepped carefully from one dinner-plate sized island of dried mud to the next, we could clearly see the black, oily muck that makes up the bottom, and we couldn't avoid the stink of sewage and noxious chemistry from decades of thoughtless dumping in the creeks and accidental discharge from the treatment plant just upstream. The sepulchral skeletons of trees stand yards deep in this filth, their crowns festooned with lost fishing tackle and garbage. There was no evidence of life till we got to the dam and its ring of dead fish. That anything at all can live and grow in that toilet of a lake still amazes me.

But rather than take that opportunity to dig out and clean up the disgusting mess, the county just filled it up again and kept taking parking fees from swimmers and boaters. Beyond making it cleaner and safer, removing what has to be between ten and twenty feet of toxic crap from the bottom would substantially increase the lake's water storage capacity in the face of chronic drought.

Upstream, as we saw after the last big winter storm, we have cracked, broken and poorly secured sewer lines crossing the creeks. We also have huge amounts of lawn and garden fertilizers washing off into them. In every other freshwater system in this country, this sort of pollution is the most important source of nitrogen feeding the algal blooms, but the editor fails to mention it. I mention it here as one thing every homeowner can do to help: ditch the chemicals (or, for you literalists, stop ditching them) and seek out healthier ways to make your home look nice. (Hint: It's cheaper, too!)

It bears repeating that Prescott has the largest concentration of regularly flowing creeks in the state, and they are a big part of what makes this such a beautiful place to live. It's long past time we as a community halted the abuse and began investing seriously in restoring and maintaining their health, and not just on the surface.