Spring Creek looks much like any other stream in the Black Hills, it meanders through serene meadows and drops into a steep walled canyon.
But Spring Creek is different. Water quality monitoring in recent years shows levels of fecal coliform and E. coli bacteria above the EPA threshold for swimming. The pollution may come from both human and animal waste entering the stream.
The polluted section of Spring Creek is downstream from the town of Hill City and upstream Sheridan Lake. Houses, wildlife and animal pastures line this section of creek. Water quality testing began in 2010 and showed contamination from human and animal waste at levels that make the stream unsafe for swimming. Now water quality managers in Pennington County are implementing a plan to reduce pollution.
“Once you do a little bit of everything collectively it will help the water quality and watershed as a whole,” says Brittney Molitor the Pennington County Water Protection Coordinator.
Molitor says the effort to clean up Spring Creek is long term. She says this includes on-going checking of septic systems, cleaning storm runoff from Hill City, and managing livestock in a way that keeps waste out of the creek. The hope is that over time the water quality can improve, but she says only with the help locals.
“It’s a voluntary project you know, you don’t have to participate. We always welcome those that would like to or just get educated and understand and just do some simple things to manage their land close to the creek," says Molitor.
Spring Creek enters Sheridan Lake near a popular beach. Officials say so far, no contaminated water has been found at the beach.
Officials with the State Department of Environment and Natural Resources are also monitoring the creek. Data following flooding on Spring Creek this past summer is still being compiled. Officials are preparing a major report to the EPA in 2016 showing all impaired water bodies in South Dakota. The 2014 report shows 166 rivers, lakes, and streams with levels of suspended solids, fecal coliform and E. coli bacteria above EPA standards.