By Susan Redden
CARTHAGE, Mo. — When bacteria levels spike in Spring River, the causes could be animal, human or a combination, said Tony Moehr, Jasper County Health Department director.
Levels of E. coli bacteria, sometimes “off the charts,” have been tracked in water tests done in recent years by the Jasper County Health Department and a stream team composed of students at Carthage High School.
On Thursday, residents who live along Spring River or own property along the stream through Carthage will be asked to weigh in on what problems they see in the Spring River watershed and how they should be addressed.
“The main thing we want to do is get landowners’ input on what they feel are the needs along Spring River, so they can be incorporated into a watershed management plan,” said Jim Honey, Eastern District associate commissioner for Jasper County.
He said the county has tried to identify landowners and residents who live along that stretch of the river to send them letters of invitation. He said organizers hope that anyone with an interest in the stream will attend the session, set for 7 p.m. in the agricultural department of the Carthage Technical Center, 609 River St.
“We’re hoping for a lot of community input that will help us put together a watershed plan,” Moehr said. “Eventually, we want a management plan for all of the Spring River basin in Jasper County, but we’re starting just with the stretch that runs through Carthage.”
That part of the river will be the first study target because sampling done by the health department and the Carthage High School stream team has identified elevated bacteria levels. The stream was identified as “impaired” by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources as a result of the test results.
The listing qualifies that part of the river for possible federal and state funds to address problems degrading the water quality, but a watershed management plan must be in place, Moehr said.
“One of the first things they require is that you have looked at what’s going on, identified potential sources of the problem, and potential solutions,” he said. “Once we have that on paper in a management plan, we can use it to apply for potential funding.”
A longtime sponsor of the CHS stream team said he thinks bacteria problems in the river are well established.
“We need to quit talking about monitoring, and start talking about identifying the sources (of pollution) and how they should be remediated,” said Wayne Christian, now retired from the CHS science department.
Christian sponsored the CHS steam team when the student volunteers started water-quality monitoring in 2004.
The group a year later expanded its monitoring to E coli. High levels of the bacteria indicate the presence of microorganisms that increase the risk for illness. Stream-team tests and those by the Jasper County Health Department consistently found E. coli levels beyond recommended levels.
“So, we don’t need to talk about monitoring for bacteria; we already know it’s a problem,” Christian said.
Health officials advise against swimming or wading in water when E. coli levels are high. That warning would apply to many Carthage-area residents who use the river as a recreation source in the summer, and it should apply to boaters and fishermen, Christian said.
‘Enjoy ... not destroy’
The river is popular among local fishermen, said Gloria Leeson, who owns Bud and Gloria’s Bait Shop on Highway 96.
“They like it, and they get a lot of fish out of it,” she said. “But they don’t like it when people trash it.”
Ed Grundy, who has become involved with the watershed group after years as a volunteer with Kellogg Lake and Spring River projects, said he hopes work on the management plan will help educate residents about the need to protect the waterway.
“People need to enjoy the river, not destroy it,” he said.
Moehr said the effort will help if it reminds people that they still are part of a watershed even if they are miles away from a river or creek.
“We’re all in a watershed, and everything we do affects water quality somewhere,” he said.
Moehr said it’s likely that septic tanks, agricultural sources and wildlife all are contributors to the river’s bacteria levels, which he said are at their highest after heavy rainfall.
“I hope we’ll be able to look at it holistically and try to find common-sense solutions as far as improving water quality,” he said.
The watershed group is being sponsored by the Environmental Task Force of Jasper and Newton Counties.
By Susan Redden
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