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Drugs, other toxins found in creek water

Pharmaceuticals and turbidity taint a stretch of Hinkson Creek, a study says.
Monday, January 23, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:34 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

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As Columbia grows, the health of one long-term resident, Hinkson Creek, is providing a rich reflection on the impacts of urban living. Early findings of a water quality study raise questions like: Why do we have pharmaceutical drugs in our town’s surface water?

State scientists are still working to determine the precise levels of foreign material in a section of the creek from Broadway to Providence Road, but initial reports from the second phase of the Hinkson Creek Stream Study reveal unspecified pharmaceutical drugs, arsenic, lead, and agents used in plastics and pesticides in the water.

Water cloudiness, known as turbidity, which is often associated with land disturbance activities common in construction, was also noted, with the highest levels in areas near U.S. 63 and Old Highway 63.

Sometimes toxicity levels in the stream were high enough to adversely affect the microorganisms scientists use to score water quality.

Initial findings were not all bad. For the first time since spring sampling began in 2002, the range of macroinvertebrates in a section of the creek near East Walnut Street was high enough for the stream to be deemed fully capable of supporting its natural community.

“As opposed to some streams that we have in Missouri, there are fish and invertebrates — it has an aquatic community,” said Randy Crawford, a supervisor of the water quality monitoring section at the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. “Is it as good as it could be? No. Is it the worst in the state? Absolutely not.”

Hinkson is in what Crawford called a gray area, reflecting characteristics common when a stream travels from a rural to an urban area. He said Columbia is capable of improving the health of the stream.

“It used to be the planning process didn’t take into consideration the streams, lakes or surrounding natural areas, but now there is a whole area of science that deals with how to develop using limited-impact technology,” he said.

The Hinkson Creek Watershed Restoration Project was designed to help Columbians learn how to reduce residential impacts on the creek, which receives about 60 percent of Columbia’s runoff.

Asphalt sealers and lawn chemicals can be responsible for harmful runoff, said Scott Hamilton, an urban conservationist with the watershed restoration project. His group provides information on responsible lawn care, tree planting, stream monitoring and rain gardens — mini wetlands installed by homeowners to offset storm water runoff — and offers financial assistance to residents interested in rain gardens or tree planting.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources’ study of the creek commenced after a 14-mile section of the creek, beginning south of I-70 at the Walnut Street Bridge, was added to a federal listing of impaired waters.

Phase one results of the Hinkson project, from I-70 to Broadway, were released in 2004 and led to discussions with the Missouri Department of Transportation about the storage of its salt products, which had been leaching into the creek. Compounds harmful to aquatic health were also found in runoff from the parking lots of some shopping centers on Conley Road. A Transportation Department official said the study reinforced steps his department had been taking to clean up sites around the state.

“It helps keep us aware of the importance of how we keep our materials and reinforces the importance of the efforts we’re already making,” said Eric Schroeter, an operations engineer with the Department of Transportation in Columbia. “We want to be a good neighbor.”

The facility will relocate in about a year to a site near the intersection of Route B and U.S. 63 because of a project connecting Conley Road to Business Loop 70 W.


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