State report: Red Butte Creek is now safe two years after oil spill

Published: Thursday, July 12 2012 9:00 a.m. MDT

The amounts in Red Butte are not a significantly large enough sample to provide an identifiable crude oil "marker" that would tell the water quality division that the compounds, indeed, came from Chevron oil, Bittner said.

"We will never know because it is similar to what we find in other creeks," Bittner said. "If I came in blind and did not know there had been an oil spill in Red Butte Creek,  I would not think there had been a spill in Red Butte Creek."

Bittner said the same hydrocarbon compounds are present in a sample taken from a site in the creek above the spill location near Red Butte Gardens.

The division must consider "how clean is clean" given that no sampling of water quality exists prior to the spill, Bittner said.

"We will never know because we don't what was in Red Butte Creek prior to the spill."

Bittner and Whitehead said urban runoff — oil residue being washed by the rain into a creek from a nearby parking lot or a car leaking oil driving past a storm drain grate —  fuel the constant presence of hydrocarbon compounds in the urban waterways.

If what is being detected in Red Butte came from Chevron, Bittner said he suspects the levels of compounds would continue to decrease, rather than remain constant like they are.

Whitehead said a better barometer of the creek's health is evidenced by the presence of aquatic organisms, which were wiped out by the spill. Sampling shows that the organisms are recovering, but have not caught up to levels seen above the spill site.

While it may be possible to completely remove any residue by digging up the creek, Whitehead such an action would disturb what progress has been made by the aquatic life in the last two years, and the contamination would simply return due to urban runoff.

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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