A problem with Kiefer Creek comes to light

In 2009 a community member came to us with a troubling account from Kiefer Creek. Steve Seyer reported to us that his dog, Adolphus, had become seriously ill after frequent trips to Castlewood State Park. Steve and Adolphus worked out regularly by running the course of Kiefer Creek, where they enjoyed the lush natural corridor.

During many of their outings it would rain, or had recently rained, and Adolphus, like any dog would, drank the water from the creek. During the same time period Adolphus developed serious infections and gastrointestinal problems, and so Steve kept Adolphus home while he nursed him back to health. Based on a process of elimination Steve came to the hypothesis that Adolphus’ sickness was connected to drinking from Kiefer Creek.


Hypothesis & Data

Being a resident of the area, Steve knew that there was a not only a spring on Kiefer Creek Road, but also a USGS monitoring station just downstream from the spring. So he checked the USGS Website to see what kind of data they had collected. He found that the USGS had collected flow and guage height measurements every 15 minutes for decades, and that they had collected water quality data at this site on 49 occasions between 1996 and 2004.

At first the data Steve found was a bit perplexing to understand, without a frame a reference it was hard to understand what pollutants to look at and what constituted a dangerous amount of these pollutants. At a glance though, Steve noted that some of the samples showed dramatic increases in bacteria concentrations and that these samples seemed to coincide with elevated flows and gauge heights.


Classified – Unclassified

Around this stage in the story Steve started working with us to better understand the possible water quality concerns on Kiefer Creek and determine what should come next. the first step was deciphering the data collected by the USGS. In terms of the relevant water quality standards developed to protect human and animal use of water bodies.

Then we looked to see what protections are specifically applied to Kiefer Creek using the Missouri DNR GIS dataset of Classified Waters. we found out that the classified segment of Kiefer is protected at the level of Whole Body Contact B for recreation as. So we looked up the water quality standards for recreational uses where we found a table of bacteria limits which have been determined to be protective of whole body contact recreation.

Classified – Unclassified

We also determined that the stretch of Kiefer Creek from which the samples had been taken was an ‘unclassified’ stream segment. In Missouri ‘Classified’ streams are those that are protected by designated uses like the support of aquatic life and recreational use. Only a portion of the waters in the state are currently considered classified, and in the Kiefer Creek watershed Kiefer Creek is only classified from its confluence with the Meramec to where it crosses the western boundary of Castlewood State Park, a stream segment 1.2 miles in length.

Because the data collected by the USGS had been collected from the unclassified segment of Kiefer Creek, it was not subject to review under the protection of any designated uses. And so the problem went unaddressed and virtually unknown while substantially concerning data existed for over a decade. Additionally when we found the data 5 year had elapsed since the last test, but only data collected from the last 3 years can be used to list a water as impaired in Missouri.

However, If the data had been considered under the same designated use protections as are apllied 1/4 of a mile downstream from the monitoring location, on the classified segment of Kiefer Creek, Kiefer likely would have been added to the list of impaired waters a decade ago.


Impaired = 303d = TMDL

Impaired waters are those that have been determined to be incapable of supporting their designated uses due to a violation of one or more water quality standards. Once a water has been found to be impaired and iss added to the 303d List of Impaired Waters, it is slated for the development of a TMDL or Total Maximum Daily Load.

The TMDL is an in-depth assessment of the sources of the pollutant or pollutants that are causing the designated use impairment. The TMDL will determine the amount of pollution reductions necessary to meet the water quality standard and may include pollution limits for specific sources of the target pollutants.

303d listed waters may be afforded additional protections from increases in pollutant loads as well as priority status for restoration funding opportunities. We determined that the first thing we should do to get Kiefer Creek cleaned up was to get it added to this list, to formally recognize the problem and begin a strategic water quality improvement process.


Gaining recognition of the impairment of Kiefer Creek

We were left in a situation where we had data showing a likely impairment, but it was unusable for our goal of getting Kiefer Creek added to the 303d List. So we decided to check around for more recent bacteria data that had been collected from the classified segment of Kiefer. As a result of multiple inquiries to various entities likely to collect data on Kiefer, we found data collected in 2009 showing that the classified segment of Kiefer Creek exceeds the safe level for bacteria.

We submitted our findings in a comment to MDNR regarding the 2010 303d List and Kiefer Creek was added to the list as impaired for recreational use due to bacteria concentrations. In 2012, as a result of the next 303d listing assessment, Kiefer Creek was also listed as impaired for aquatic life use due to chloride levels.


Deciphering the nature of the problem

Getting Kiefer Creek added to the 303d list was only the first step in a long journey toward substantive water quality improvements. With momentum building around the project and the elevated priority afforded to the Kiefer Creek Watershed as an impaired water, we decided to invest our time into figuring out how the watershed works and determine the possible sources for the bacteria impairment.

Through our investigations into the watershed we determined that there are a number of likely source of bacteria in Kiefer Creek including failing septic systems, horses, pets, and wildlife. As well, the increased development within the watershed has likely reduced amount of healthy flora and fauna capable of naturally digesting animal bacteria sources. While the synonymous impervious surface increases have contributed to destbilizing the flow regime in Kiefer Creek, reducing the dilution of bacteria pollution and increasing bacteria concentrations in response to storm events.

It became clear to us that, although there are a number of likely sources of bacteria in Kiefer Creek, there is a larger issue to be considered. The overall health of the watershed, the composition of the landscape, and the presrevation of the most vital and sensitive areas in the watershed.