Tackling bacteria in our creeks

By Madeline Seveland

Carver County Water Management

Carver, Bevens and Silver creeks in Carver County are impaired for excessive fecal coliform bacteria. Fecal coliform bacteria come from the intestines of water-blooded animals and are used as indicator bacteria, meaning if they are present, disease-causing organisms may also be present. Both Bevens and Carver creeks are listed on the Minnesota State Impaired Water list because water with high levels of fecal coliform bacteria are not suitable for recreational activities; fishing and swimming.
So how do these bacteria get in the water in the first place?
Carver County Water Management Organization conducted a study on these two creeks and the surrounding areas, which found that the main sources of bacteria in the creeks include manure applications and human “direct discharges.” Direct discharges occur when wastewater (from bathrooms, kitchens, etc.) is not treated, but is sent straight into a lake, river or other water body, or is sent into a ditch or tile that leads to a water body. Direct discharges are imminent public health threats as the untreated wastewater they release contains bacteria.
In 2008, Carver County developed a loan and cost share incentive program to tackle direct discharges. Through the program homeowners can receive both cost share and a loan to help fix direct discharges.
Through the program 115 septic systems have been installed so far in the County, thus fixing or removing many direct discharges.
Specifically, in the Carver, Bevens and Silver creek watersheds where the direct discharges directly affect the impaired creeks, 73 systems have been installed eliminating direct discharges.
In order to make this program work, Carver County has applied for and received grant funds from the Board of Soil and Water Resources (BWSR) to help cover the staff working on the program. These grants allowed the County to utilize cost savings and use that money for incentive payments.
In addition each year the Water Management Organization’s citizen advisory committee and County Board made it a priority to set aside funds dedicated to this program. Out of the 25 sub-watersheds in Carver, Bevens and Silver creek watersheds to date we have analyzed and made improvements in all but five of them.  Those last five will be targeted in the next two years.
Fixing direct discharges helps eliminate bacterial health hazards and improve water quality in Carver County. This program has been successful in both reducing bacteria in the creeks (23 of 25 monitoring sites have shown improvement) and in its acceptance by the public (many accolades with few complaints).
So successful, in fact, that the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District (lake Minnetonka area) modeled a similar program after it.
For more information, contact Joe Enfield, Carver County Environmental Services, at (952) 361-1801 or email [email protected]