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Development of a fecal contamination monitoring and control strategy in upper Fountain Creek, Colorado

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Development of a fecal contamination monitoring and control strategy in upper Fountain Creek, Colorado

Study Area: Upper Fountain Creek from Manitou Springs to Colorado
Period of Project: 2007-2009
Project Number: CST00
Project Chief: David Mau and Don Stoeckel
Cooperator: Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments and Colorado Springs Utilities


The Fountain Creek watershed is a 927-square-mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo and is in the Front Range of the southern Rocky Mountains. This project focuses on a 12-mile segment of upper Fountain Creek, a 120-square-mile area within the Fountain Creek Watershed that extends southeast through Manitou Springs to the confluence of Monument Creek and upper Fountain Creek in Colorado Springs. Upper Fountain Creek is used extensively for recreation including hiking, fishing, and horseback riding in and near the resort town of Manitou Springs. Upper Fountain Creek also is a source of drinking water for Colorado Springs.

Upper and Lower Fountain Creek are contaminated by fecal material from above the Colorado Springs city limits to the confluence with the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The Upper Fountain Creek watershed is on the candidate 303(d) list as a high priority because of E. coli contamination. This list will be sent by the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE) to USEPA for approval on or near April 1, 2006. Sometime after the inclusion of Upper Fountain Creek on the 303(d) list is approved, the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) process will be initiated in the watershed. Data collected in the watershed show that E. coli concentrations commonly exceed the regulatory limit of 126 colony-forming units per 100 mL water (CFU/100 mL) throughout the watershed from May through October. E. coli concentrations greater than 100,000 CFU/100 mL have been measured in Fountain Creek during wet-weather flow. Likely sources of E. coli in the watershed include human sources such as leaking sewer lines (Manitou Springs is served by an extension of the Colorado Springs sewer system), failing septic systems in unsewered areas of the watershed, and backpackers, domestic animals (pets, livestock, riding horses), and wildlife.

This study will test a strategy for gaining information about fecal-contamination sources to Fountain Creek. This project will be done as a partnership between the USGS and Colorado Springs-area cooperators/stakeholders. The strategy includes monitoring of E. coli concentrations and use of microbial source tracking (MST) markers (Bacteroidales-based markers for human and ruminant fecal contamination and the Enterococcus faecium-carried esp marker of human fecal contamination). The strategy includes steps to define and localize (in time and space) major contributions of fecal contamination and tests for specific fecal contamination sources in selected samples.


  1. To provide information on spatial and temporal patterns of E. coli concentration in streams of the Upper Fountain Creek watershed
  2. To use and evaluate microbial source tracking (MST) markers to test their efficacy in the Upper Fountain Creek watershed, and to provide information on sources of contamination
  3. To present information to local stakeholders and gather information from local stakeholders through a series of meetings that will facilitate interpretation of sample results
  4. To transfer technology related to sampling and analytical methods, and results interpretation, by way of a USGS Scientific Investigations Report or a peer-reviewed article in the scientific literature

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