Fossil Creek, San Pedro River segment water quality improves, leads to ADEQ delisting

Mar 23, 2023, 4:05 AM

Fossil Creek. (Facebook Photo/Coconino National Forest)...

Fossil Creek. (Facebook Photo/Coconino National Forest)

(Facebook Photo/Coconino National Forest)

PHOENIX — Fossil Creek and the lower San Pedro River near Winkelman are now safe for recreation, according to a release by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

Both water bodies were provisionally delisted from the state’s Clean Water Act Impaired Waters List Wednesday. The list identifies Arizona waters that do not meet applicable state water quality standards. Fossil Creek and a segment of the San Pedro were both previously listed as impaired in the Arizona 2022 Clean Water Act Assessment for exceeding the E. coli surface water quality standard.

These impairments will be officially removed from the list pending final approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Samples from these waters were collected by volunteers through Arizona Water Watch, ADEQ’s community science program. Volunteers collected approximately 6,900 samples in the 2022 calendar year. ADEQ estimates the value of the sample collection effort at more than $800,000.

“This is an extraordinary effort by our volunteer citizen scientists,” said ADEQ Water Quality Division Director Trevor Baggiore. “By working together, we can ensure that our rivers remain healthy and vibrant for generations to come.”

Fossil Creek is a popular recreation destination, one of Arizona’s two wild and scenic rivers and is designated by ADEQ under the Clean Water Act as one of 22 Outstanding Arizona Waters. Arizona’s Outstanding Arizona Waters are waterbodies with exceptional ecological, cultural, or recreational value and consequently receive additional protections.

Due to the Backbone Fire in June 2021, public access to Fossil Creek was closed until November 2022. This temporary closure provided ADEQ an opportunity to study and sample the creek when people and pets were not allowed in the area. Volunteers will continue to sample as people return to recreate on the water.

The removal of this segment of the San Pedro River from the Impaired Waters List is a result of joint efforts with mining companies and grazing permitees along the river and riparian corridor to restore wildlife habitat, water retention and removing cattle. The San Pedro is the last major free-flowing, undammed river in the American Southwest.

In addition to the provisional delisting of Fossil Creek and a segment of the San Pedro River for E. coli, Potrero Creek, a tributary for the Santa Cruz River, is proposed to be delisted for dissolved oxygen, but will remain on the Impaired Waters List for E. coli and chlorine levels.

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Fossil Creek, San Pedro River segment water quality improves, leads to ADEQ delisting