Tributary Assessment Project Aims to Clean Miramar Creek; the Creek Has Fecal Coliform Bacteria Levels Well above What Is Considered a Definite Health Risk

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Byline: CHARLIE PATTON

Even before Jacksonville posted a sign on the banks of Miramar Creek warning of high bacteria counts and potential health risks, residents on Rio Lindo Drive had been complaining about the condition of the little creek.

For the last four years, Dee Stoudemire and Ginny Taylor have lobbied city officials about problems with the stream that runs through Greenridge Road Park behind their homes as it flows into the St. Johns River. Initially their concerns were aesthetic, as silt and weeds turned the creek sluggish. Then, two years ago, the sign about high bacteria counts went up and aesthetics gave way to health concerns.

So a meeting that took place last week on the banks of the creek was a singularly satisfying moment for them -- a demonstration, as City Councilman Art Shad noted, that sometimes "the squeaky wheel does get the grease."

Shad, who called the meeting, and Taylor met with representatives from several city agencies to talk about progress toward the goal of cleaning up the creek.

Partly as a result of Shad's lobbying -- and partly because of its consistently high levels of fecal coliform -- Miramar Creek is one of six creeks included in a Tributary Assessment Team project organized by the JEA, which manages the city's water and sewer system.

The project has two goals. One is to create a manual that can be used in the future to assess other polluted waters and determine the pollution source. The other goal is to find the pollution source on the six creeks in the pilot project and recommend an approach to cleaning them up. The other five creeks are Butcher Pen Creek, which flows into the Ortega River on the Westside; Deep Bottom Creek in Mandarin; New Castle Creek in Arlington; Terrapin Creek north of Dames Point; and Blockhouse Creek in Ribault Hills.

Although the final report on the six creeks won't be made until July, in the case of Miramar the source of the problem has been pretty clearly identified, said Cheryl Wapnick, an environmental scientist with PBS&J, an engineering firm that is working as a consultant on the project.

Most of the homes along the creek use septic tanks to dispose of sewage. Septic tank failures would appear to be the cause of most of the pollution in Miramar, Wapnick said.

While well-designed, well-maintained septic tanks "can be an effective mechanism for handling sewage," inadequate maintenance can result in contamination, said Brad Russell, a JEA engineer. Tanks must be pumped out every couple of years and damage to parts of the system can result in malfunction, as can high levels of rain. …