Blue Thumb staff and volunteers are currently monitoring around 110 sites. With some of those sites on the same creek, there are around eighty streams under the watchful eye of our programs. These creeks are found across the state, for example, the 2017 winter quality assurance sessions covered creeks in twenty different counties. Each and every one of these creeks is unique in its own way. Some are wide and deep, resembling a river more than what one might think of as a “creek.” Others are small, narrow and shallow, meandering through the landscape while receiving little notice from the human population. Recently, I was given the chance to begin monitoring my own creek, right here in Oklahoma City.
Guy James Creek is likely very familiar to those who live around it, although it’s uncertain how much they actually think of the water flowing there and its quality. While it’s not very wide, it cuts a deep path through the middle of Edgemere and Guy James Parks, which are part of the Edgemere Park Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The lovely neighborhood surrounding the parks is filled with brick houses in a number of different architectural styles, ranging in size from small homes to mansions.
Front lawns and back yards of a residential neighborhood could, we might guess, contribute to runoff getting into Guy James Creek. Another contributing factor is the streets which border the park on all sides, 32nd on the south, 36th on the north, Hudson to the west and Harvey on the east. Not helping matters is the landscape of the parks themselves, mostly small groupings of trees, scattered around the gently rolling, grassy green hills. Along the banks of the creek, there is little to no riparian area, and the grass appears to be mowed right up to the edge of the creek. The area is not what could be called heavily wooded.
All of these factors make the creek an excellent candidate for monitoring and it has been monitored by Blue Thumb volunteers in the past. A volunteer at another creek told me recently that when selecting a creek to monitor, she had hoped that maybe she could find a creek with a problem to solve, with something wrong that she could help to investigate and fix. At first glance, Guy James Creek seems like it might be that kind of creek.
During the monitoring of the creek between 2014 and 2016, there were some results which seemed to support that theory. For example, a fish collection was completed on Guy James during the summer of 2014. Over the 400 meters or “quarter-mile” length used for the collection, only three fish were found and they were the same species, Green Sunfish, which is “known to tolerate turbidity, siltation and elevated temperatures,” and able to range from “moderately intolerant” to “tolerant,” according to the EPA’s An Introduction to Freshwater Fishes as Biological Indicators. One species and three fish is quite a difference from creeks in the same ecoregion (Central Great Plains) where we’ve found, on average, 596 fish representing thirteen different species.
In another instance, an unusually high reading for Ammonia was found during a test in 2015. The water was sampled around ten o’clock in the morning on July 14th, right in the middle of summer. Blue Thumb staff took action at that time, contacting the Department of Environmental Quality about the high reading. As far as I’ve been able to tell, no cause for the high level of Ammonia was determined. This seemed to be an outlier, as the reading was normal a few months prior and a few months after the high reading.
Similarly, when I tested the water myself two months ago, during my first monitoring session, I discovered an extremely low reading for dissolved oxygen. It was close to zero for a creek that has historically hovered around eleven-to-fourteen milligrams per liter. This water was also sampled in the morning, on March 27th. With the water temperature at fourteen degrees Celsius, the oxygen saturation was a very low seven percent. Recent tests have revealed that the oxygen level has gone back up to typical and healthy levels.
Looking back, nothing else unusual happened during that late March round of testing. All of the other test results were within normal parameters. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary at or around the creek while I was there, deepening the mystery around what caused that extremely low level of oxygen. These kinds of test results can be fascinating (and alarming) and can lead to further testing and investigations. I’m looking forward to testing Guy James Creek again over the coming months, to see how things change (or don’t). I will also delve more deeply into these chemical tests in a future blog, providing more insight into what, exactly, we’re testing for and what the results mean. Stay tuned!