DEQ holds meeting to discuss E. coli levels in Shoshone River

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) held a meeting at the Lovell Community Center on Aug. 23 to discuss the Shoshone River Pathogen TMDL project. This is the second in a series of meetings that will be held throughout the various phases of the project, which will take place over the period of one year.

A TMDL is the total maximum daily load of pollutant a stream can contain and be used safely.

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality is conducting an assessment of why certain segments of the Shoshone River and tributaries connected to the river are impaired by bacteria that could be harmful to humans.

The assessment is required by the Clean Water Act, which was passed in 1972 requiring streams and water bodies in the U.S. to be assigned beneficial uses. When a water body is determined to not be meeting its assigned designated uses, an assessment is required to determine how to bring the water body into compliance so it can be used safely.

The first phase of the Shoshone River project began in July and will end in September. The study looked at bacteria found in certain stream segments of the watershed area from Buffalo Bill Dam in Cody to Big Horn Lake. The DEQ hired the firm RESPEC to help determine what the community needs to do to reduce bacteria levels, specifically contamination from E. coli bacteria, in those stream segments to bring them into compliance with water quality standards. E. coli is a rod-shaped bacterium that is commonly found in the lower intestine of warm-blooded organisms. It can make people sick who have contact with the water.

RESPEC project manager Cory Foreman presented an overview of what a TMDL is and why it is important.

“The Shoshone River has trout in it, it’s a cold water fishery,” he explained. “People wade in it, swim in it, they raft down it. This gives it a recreation use assigned to it.”

Foreman explained that bacteria concentration in the water when tested exceeded certain numeric values assigned based on use of the water body. In the case of the Shoshone River, the designated use is primarily recreational.

“When the water body exceeds that number it becomes impaired,” said Foreman. “In this case the conservation district has been monitoring the Shoshone River several years now and is getting samples that are above that numeric target or criteria and the water body is listed as impaired. That’s why this TMDL assessment needed to be done.”

Foreman explained that the TMDL looks at how much bacterial “load” is in the river. The assessment looks at what is allowable, what the current load is, and the difference between the two is the reduction needed, he explained. It also looks at possible sources of the problem by examining the land use, animals and other human uses in the area that may be contributing to the problem.

“We are looking at where the bacteria coming from and how we are going to clean it up,” said Foreman.

The first phase of the project (July 2012-Sept. 2012) is nearing completion. This phase gathered information.

In the second phase of the project (Sept. 2012 – April 2013) the TMDL analysis will estimate the source loads, the allowable loading capacity and the allocation of the loads required to meet the TMDL.

A third phase of the project (April 2013 – June 2013) will make recommendations.

According to Foreman the study will examine the entire watershed, including tributaries that flow into the Shoshone River. Problem areas are defined in segments.

“We have eight impaired stream segments,” said Foreman. “That’s something to be aware of. We define the impaired areas by segments. So the Shoshone River is listed as impaired, but it is not the whole breach.”

According to Foreman six of the eight areas listed as impaired are near Lovell. He presented a list of the impaired areas, which included parts of the Shoshone River and several tributaries including Dry Gulch, Bitter Creek, Whistle Creek, Foster Gulch, Polecat Creek, Big Wash and Sage Creek.

Foreman said that the assessment is still in the early stages and the idea of holding community meetings is to get input as to what may be causing the problem. As the study continues more information about its findings will be revealed at subsequent meetings.

“This is all driven by potential human health risk,” said Foreman. “E. coli bacteria can make people sick and you don’t necessarily have to swim in the water to get sick. So this is why we are doing this.”

The DEQ will hold another public meeting on Thursday, Sept. 27, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Park County Weed & Pest Building, located at 1067 Road 13, in Powell.

The purpose of this meeting is to provide information about the Watershed Characterization portion of the Shoshone River Pathogen TMDL project.

The meeting will include a 30-minute presentation, followed by an opportunity to talk with DEQ and project representatives.  Members of the public are encouraged to attend this meeting to assist in providing valuable information and input for the project.

By Patti Carpenter