I-Team investigates 'dangerous' creek contamination in the Triangle

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The I-Team investigates creek contamination around the Triangle (WTVD)

"It's poop," Matt Starr said plainly as he bent down to take another water sample.

Starr is the Upper Neuse Riverkeeper and has been keeping an eye on both Lick Creek and Rocky Branch Creek, both of which cross Hwy 98 near the Durham/Wake County line and spill straight into Falls Lake.

Both creeks have been monitored by the City of Durham since 2004 and have repeatedly shown high levels of fecal coliform bacteria. Twice, the city has turned its findings over to the state and, twice, state investigators have found reasons for the high fecal levels and issued fines as a result.

What the state hasn't done is begun independently monitoring the two creeks or labeled either 'impaired.' And Starr says that's a problem.

"The state needs to further investigate," he said.

Starr's sampling suggests there's more for the state to investigate than just fecal coliform. Recent data from his tests show extremely high levels of E coli bacteria.

The scientist who did the analysis at N.C. State, Prof. JoAnn Burkholder, wrote this to Starr, putting his numbers in context: "No matter how you consider it, the numbers in your samples are in the thousands, not in the hundreds. They are more than 10 times higher than they should be to minimize human illness. Your data indicate the water is not safe for any human contact; not to be around splashes, not to put your hand in. Without a high probability of sustaining illness."

"The state needs to figure out how fecal bacteria and E coli are affecting larger reaches of Falls Lake," said Starr, "and they need to get the information to the public."

That's something they couldn't agree more with at Rollingview Marina. The small, family owned marina sits just around a small bend in the shoreline from where Lick Creek and Rocky Branch Creek let out and there, water quality is paramount.

"If we don't have clean water," said Branden Gooch, part of the family that owns the marina, "people aren't going to go swimming, they're not going to want to use boats, they're not going to want to get in the water which is obviously what our business is based off of."

"It's only a matter of time," continued Gooch, "before the dilution doesn't solve the problem. And if something's not done about it, I can imagine 15, 20, 30 years from now, maybe longer, there won't be a whole lot to come out and enjoy."

ABC11 sent Starr's data to the state Department of Environmental Quality for review.

A spokesperson for the department, Michele Walker, told ABC11 the state monitors water quality once a month in the middle of Falls Lake and said they know when there are problems.

Walker said most of DEQ's sampling when it comes to rivers occurs downstream of waste water treatment plants (Lick and Rocky Branch Creek aren't) or where shellfish or recreational beaches are concerned.

On Falls Lake, counties monitor the water around beaches, the state monitors the lake water, and the city of Durham has it's ambient water quality program, which caught the problem in the first place. But so far, despite years of data showing high fecal coliform and other contaminants showing up, no one is watching to see if anything needs to be done if and when it gets particularly bad.

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