June 25, 2008 · Updated 9:36 PM
"After reading the letters from Mike Shelton and Steve Erickson in the March 1 Record, I couldn't resist the temptation to (ahem) stir the pot a bit about the Escherichia coli (a.k.a. fecal coliform bacteria) situation in Maxwelton Creek. There is a wealth of information in the county's watershed assessment report, and one could find numbers to support many claims or positions. As the relevant example here, it is true (as Steve pointed out), that levels of fecal coliforms were 32 times the state standard and higher than any stream tested in the Seattle metropolitan area. On the other hand, as Mike pointed out, the levels Steve cited were found on only one of four testing days. However, it is not quite true that levels on the three days not referred to by Steve were within state standards, since the March 12 sample exceeded standards by about five times. Additionally, which neither writer mentioned, all of the samples were collected at the same one spot on the creek.One of the data tidbits which I found very interesting (and again, which neither writer mentioned) is that higher levels of coliform were found in Langley than in Maxwelton Creek. This means, of course, that Langley levels were more than 32 times the state standard, and correspondingly worse than the Seattle area streams. This would appear to be a situation just crying out for a cause to support. Small town atmosphere, perhaps?I seem to recall that a few months ago Jim Larsen suggested using Cow Pampers for cows that couldn't be toilet trained to avoid depositing cow poop (his technical term) in creeks. Actually, I think this was a blatant attempt to drum up interest in an I.P.O. which could make him one of those cyber-millionaires. You can check on this by going to supereditor.com and clicking on the link to cowpampers.com. Anyway, I am eagerly awaiting his solution for the Langley coliform problem, since cows are hard to find in town. Except for the County Fair.Seriously (well, more or less), I agree with Mike's observation that we need more data (and a whole lot more, in my opinion) if we hope to characterize water quality and its determining factors adequately in Maxwelton Creek. I have been monitoring water quality for the Maxwelton Salmon Adventure at various locations in the Maxwelton watershed since 1994. My data include water temperature, dissolved oxygen, acidity and streamflow. I can't do fecal coliform tests, since these require extremely careful sample collection and processing, and specialized analytical equipment. They are time-consuming and expensive.Anyway, I do not dispute that something like 1,600 coliform per 100 ml. were found in Maxwelton Creek at the Erikson Road (this is not where Steve Erickson lives) culvert at about 10:40 on Aug. 6, 1997. But from my experience I would be extremely reluctant to characterize the 15 or so miles of streams in the Maxwelton system from one sample in one place on one day; or, even from four samples on four different days in the same place.A crucial question, of course, is where the 1,600 coliform per 100 ml. came from. I don't think anyone knows either the animal (includes people) or geographic source(s). We can conclude that it came from something and somewhere upstream of the Erikson Road culvert, which doesn't really narrow things down a lot. (For the uninitiated, Erikson Road is on the north boundary of the Salmon Adventure's Outdoor Classroom, just north of French Road.) And since no one knows the culprits for sure, I'd like to nominate the pesky and prolific beaver population out there. Even though this may inflame the S.P.C.B. people.To help us lighten up a little, I am glad to report that my thousands of measurements in the Maxwelton stream system over six years indicate few persistent serious water quality problems. But remember that I did not do fecal coliforms. There are a few troublesome spots that can flare up under certain conditions, and of course there are bad creek days. These tend to occur when stream flow is lowest, which is after our typical (?) dry (?) summer season. Say sometime in August to October. But then the rains return and creek conditions get better.Incidentally, I think water quantity (i.e., flowrate) is at least as serious a problem as water quality out there. In addition to limiting salmon environment, low flows tend to concentrate whatever fecals may be present, while high flows dilute them.The county's evaluation of Maxwelton Creek was that water quality was very good except for the fecal coliform level at base flow (this means the Aug. 6 sample). Potential sources of coliform were listed as failing on-site sewage disposal systems, pets, wildlife, and farm animals.Sounds about right to me.Langley resident Robert L. Barns is a volunteer with the Maxwelton Salmon Adventure. "