GOSHEN — High bacteria levels and low concentrations of oxygen are raising red flags at Yellow Creek for the Elkhart County Health Department, which plans to add more testing sites along the creek this year to keep a closer eye on the water’s condition.
Results of the county’s annual water monitoring study released Monday, March 25, showed that E. coli bacteria levels were higher in some local waterways than state standards recommend, including spots along Yellow Creek west of Goshen and Weaver Lateral near C.R. 44.
Teams from the county’s health department collected samples weekly between April and September last year to study chemicals in the water, temperature and bacteria in 26 locations at a dozen creeks, ditches, rivers and lakes in Elkhart County. Health department environmentalist Elise Pfaff said the information is used to issue health advisories, study land patterns and map E. coli hot spots.
A biology professor and students at Goshen College have also been tracking local waterways. Their analysis shows that Yellow Creek has tested the highest for E.coli and the lowest for dissolved oxygen over the past four years. To get a better understanding of why this is happening at Yellow Creek, county stormwater coordinator Eric Kurtz said the health department will be collecting more samples along the waterway.
“They did note E. coli numbers were actually increasing for the last three or four years and dissolved oxygen is getting lower, which is a bad trend,” Kurtz said. “You want higher oxygen, not lower.”
Among other factors, a lack of dissolved oxygen is linked to temperature, Kurtz explained. Higher temperatures means less oxygen, he added. Ripples help put oxygen back into the water, he said. For example, areas in a river with a fast current or rocks with water flowing over them have more oxygen.
Not all of the waterways tested by the health department have high E. coli levels. Christiana Creek near C.R. 4, Kurtz explained, has historically had low bacteria levels with a high amount of oxygen. Most of the samples taken at Swoveland Ditch near C.R. 21 and Turkey Creek near C.R. 50 also tested below or close to E. coli standards set by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.