The Belle Fourche River in northeastern Wyoming and two creeks that flow into it have E. coli, ammonia and chloride levels that exceed water quality standards, a new state report says.
The report, recently released by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, could help the state and local conservation districts secure federal funds to fix the pollution.
Now the DEQ wants the public to review the report and submit comments.
E. coli can cause gastrointestinal distress, said Kevin Hyatt, a DEQ coordinator.
Ammonia can be toxic to aquatic life. Chloride has several potential effects, including affecting the weight and reproductive abilities of animals, Hyatt said.
“You’re talking about concentration and duration,” said David Waterstreet, manager of the DEQ’s watershed protection program. “Just because something has been impacted with a high concentration once does not necessarily mean an immediate effect will occur.”
Since 2010, scientists from the DEQ and Pasadena, Calif.-based Tetra Tech Inc. have studied the Belle Fourche in two spots near Keyhole Reservoir, as well as two feeders, Donkey Creek and Stonepile Creek.
While Stonepile and Donkey creeks flow through Gillette and received toxins from urban life, the areas of the Belle Fourche tested received toxins from rural life.
For instance, E. coli in Stonepile Creek likely came from dog and cat waste that went through Gillette’s storm water system. The storm water system flows into the creek, the report stated.
On the other hand, E. coli in one area of the Belle Fourche likely came from cattle that eliminated on or near the river, the report stated.
But sometimes urban life intersects with rural life.
Scientists found chloride in an area of the Belle Fourche between Rattlesnake Creek and Keyhole. The chloride likely came from Donkey Creek, which flows into Keyhole. Scientists believe de-icing chemicals used on Gillette public roads and private parking lots and driveways ended up in the creek, the report states.
The report concluded the most likely source of ammonia in the Belle Fourche is the Moorcroft wastewater lagoon.
The report – technically called a Total Maximum Daily Load report, with “load” referring to the toxins loaded into the river — could be altered as a result of public comments. Then it will be submitted to the administrator of Wyoming Water Quality Division and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
If the EPA approves the report, the state could receive money to stop the toxins from flowing into the Belle Fourche watershed.
Projects could include building barriers along the water to keep animals away.
Money could also be used to help the city of Gillette pay for a deicer called Apogee, which doesn’t contain chloride. It costs $3.17 a gallon, compared to 15 cents a gallon for brine, the report said.