Ladies and Gentlemen, please put your hands together for the 2015 Watershed Winner of the Environmental Integrity Index……Barton Creek!
This was a tough year for water bodies competing to be the best. It has been a real upstream battle with a torrent of competition from really great creeks such as Walnut and Decker. But once again, Barton Creek has floated to the top of the annual watershed evaluation. This is no big surprise though; Barton frequently meanders through the winner’s circle with the all-time greats like Bee, Onion, Little Barton and Bull Creeks.
Austin streams may have poise, grace and talent but these aren’t categories in the annual evaluation called the Environmental Integrity Index (EII). Each contestant creek is tested at several locations for their chemical, physical and biological attributes by the Watershed Protection’s Surface Water Team. Four times each year the team of scientists collect several samples from over a hundred sites in Austin-area creeks to analyze data for constituents such as nutrients (ammonia, nitrate/nitrite, orthophosphate), total suspended sediment, conductivity and bacteria (E. coli). In addition to the analysis of water chemistry, the creeks are examined for their biological, sediment and physical integrity during the summer. This takes expertise in entomology, phycology and fluvial morphology, but our stream scientists are up to the challenge with over 175 years of combined experience.
Barton made a big splash this year, scoring among the highest in the categories of water quality, habitat, aquatic life, contact recreation and non-contact recreation. Although the sediment scores were lower than several other watersheds, it is not surprising because the lower half of the watershed flows through an urban area. Several pollutants (such as fertilizers, pesticides and petroleum-based chemicals) that are commonly found in urbanized areas adhere to sediment particles. The rain that falls on our roads, houses and yards carries pollutants to the creek. The best way to keep pollutants out of our creeks is to keep it off our ground!
So the next time you see Barton Creek, give her a congratulatory smile and a wave!
The Surface Water Team has been dedicated to collecting water quality data from Austin’s creeks and streams for over 15 years to document, track and protect some of our most valuable community assets. For more information on the history, methods and results of the Environmental Integrity Index for all of the Austin watersheds, check out this link: Where Can I Get More Information About My Watershed.
The raw data for 2015 water quality samples is available for download now. However, since it takes two years to reach all of the sample sites, the next report that includes both 2015 and 2016 data won’t be available until next year. Stay tuned for the 2016 winner of the best water quality!