When you drive on the Parks Highway in Wasilla you cross over Cottonwood Creek.
“It has coho salmon, rainbow trout and sockeye salmon. It’s just a really nice resource, I think, to have here,” said Laura Eldred, an environmental program specialist with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.
While it might look beautiful, what’s under the surface could make you sick. Cottonwood Creek is 13 miles long and runs through 10 different lakes, but there’s a problem.
Nearly half of the creek — from the Parks Highway to New Fairview Loop Road — is polluted with excessive and persistent fecal coliform bacteria from both animals and people.
Fecal coliform bacteria is naturally found in the digestive tracts of all warm-blooded animals.
“If kids are playing in it or if some splashes up on you when you’re fishing and you ingest that, you could get very sick, some gastrointestinal illnesses,” Eldred said.
She says the bacteria indicates possible sewage contamination. The state believes it came from poorly maintained septic systems, animal manure and polluted storm runoff.
The creek has been listed as an impaired body of water.
“It’s unfortunate that it takes a problem before people start to really look at it, but with Cottonwood Creek we have some opportunity to keep it from becoming more polluted,” Eldred said.
The state has developed a water body recovery plan and is asking for your input. It emphasizes cleaning up possible pollution sources and preventing new ones.
“That’s what we really want to focus on is the positive things people can do to help the creek,” Eldred said.
DEC is taking written comment on its recovery plan until Jan. 30.
Bacteria levels in Cottonwood Creek are above state limits, but Eldred says there is nothing to suggest that there is sewage floating in the creek.