Something's fishy with Colgan Creek. Or rather, something's not fishy, and that's got city of Santa Rosa Public Works' officials concerned. As part of their task to check the health of area waterways, Public Works staffers monitor the toxicity levels of the city's creeks—each of which has some larger destination like the Russian River, the ocean or the Laguna de Santa Rosa—twice yearly. Generally, toxicity levels are acceptable at all the creeks except Colgan. And no one knows why.
"We generally test two storms a year. The 'first flush' from the season's first big storm and then storm water runoff at another time," says senior environmental specialist Sheri Emerson. "All the other creeks perform very well most of the time. It's not in any particular pattern that we've been able to figure out."
Testing is done by putting rainbow trout into the creeks, rainbows evidently being the canary of the ichthyological world. While steelhead trout are native to North Bay creeks, rainbows are "seen as an indicator," Emerson says. And they consistently go belly-up in Colgan's muddy waters.
Tracing an urban creek is perhaps different than the mapping that Lewis and Clark might have performed. Colgan Creek comes down to Santa Rosa's southeast side from Taylor Mountain "behind the Costco," Emerson says, goes under Highway 101 and resurfaces near Bellevue Avenue. "It's a bit of a mystery," she says. "We've done a more intensive study and haven't been able to pinpoint a source. It would be great if the public would help out with the eyes and ears along the creek, because city staff can't be there all the time. Is there some place where storm-water pollution is entering the creek or is paint getting in there or is the pollution possibly coming from industry? Something is adversely affecting the water quality."
As for the other creeks, would Emerson be willing to dip a baby in their waters? "Dip a baby?" she asks, startled into laughter. "I don't know about that. You should always wash your hands after you've been in the creeks. I wouldn't swim in any of them—they're not deep enough anyway."
To deliver tips on the mystery of Colgan Creek, contact the city of Santa Rosa Public Works Department at 707.543.3800.