Bathrooms for Water Quality

In 2016 the Coalition for Compassion and Justice (CCJ) started the Stagger Straight Community Emergency Shelter on Miller Creek near the Dexter neighborhood. When CCJ moved in, they recognized the significance of having the creek in their back yard and asked Prescott Creeks to come talk with their clients about riparian systems and water quality in the streams. This was the beginning of a partnership between the two organizations. When ADEQ’s 2017 water quality improvement grant cycle was announced, Prescott Creeks reached out to CCJ with an idea for a project partnership: we would build a restroom near the creek for members of the public. This restroom will serve multiple purposes: it will provide a bathroom facility for both trail users and for those who don’t have a bathroom of their own. Through providing an accessible bathroom, this project will also reduce pollution in Miller Creek and hopefully nearby Butte and Granite Creeks as well.

If you keep up with surface water quality issues in Prescott, then you already know that E. coli is of primary concern in this area. Under a provision of the Clean Water Act, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) has assessed Prescott’s creeks and found that Granite Creek and all its named tributaries fail to meet State water quality standards. There are 13 waterbodies [1] in the Upper Granite Creek watershed that are listed for E. coli impairment, meaning the amount of E. coli in these streams exceeds the maximum allowed by ADEQ regulation.

E. coli is a bacterium that occurs naturally in the intestines of warm-blooded animals, but if it gets into other parts of the body it can cause illness. In addition to being pathogenic itself, E. coli is used as an indicator of fecal contamination in waterways. If E. coli is present in the water, it is likely that there are other pathogens present as well. In 2009-2012, as part of the creation of the Watershed Improvement Plan (WIP) for Granite Creek, dozens of water samples were collected throughout the Upper Granite Creek watershed and were tested using a technique called Microbial Source Tracking. Microbial Source Tracking uses another fecal bacterium, Bacteroides, which can be tested for genetic markers that indicate what animal the bacteria came from. Of the 46 samples tested, 91% (or 42 samples) contained bacteria that came from humans.

Because of the Microbial Source Testing that was done, we know humans are a significant contributor to fecal contamination in our creeks – the challenge then is to identify the sources of this pollution. Pinpointing specific, definitive sources is not easy, but the WIP identified several potential contributors to this problem. Some of the main concerns include: aging sewer infrastructure, improperly functioning septic systems, wildlife, pet waste, and lack of restroom facilities for increasing numbers of creek users. This last item is where our current project aims to make a difference.

Prescott is built around its many small waterways, and in recent years, the City of Prescott has been expanding its Greenways trail system along these creeks to provide pedestrian connectivity throughout the town. At the same time, Prescott has a substantial homeless and transient population – with nowhere else to go, these people are forced to take shelter in the riparian areas, some of the only open spaces around where they can avoid being disturbed. While the usage of these streams increases, there are few bathrooms nearby that are available to the public, and these are generally closed in the winter. This is a prime example of how socioeconomic issues are simultaneously environmental issues. The ultimate solution to these problems is to enhance our community by providing essential services to those who need them in the short term and help improve people’s lot in the long term.

The planning phase of this project is currently underway with installation of the bathroom planned for the summer of 2018. For more information on this project stay tuned for updates here on our website and in our monthly E-News.

[1] Aspen Creek, Banning Creek, Butte Creek, Government Canyon, Granite Creek, Granite Creek, Manzanita Creek, Miller Creek, North Fork Miller, North Granite Creek, Slaughterhouse Gulch, and two unnamed tributaries to Granite Creek are all listed as impaired waterways due to excess E. coli. Source: ADEQ eMaps

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