It’s a hot, balmy afternoon in August and I just got home from work. I needed to check my email, which at times can be a process because as a Waterkeeper, you have several email accounts. Some are set up for information, some are set up to report pollution and others are set up for direct contact.
I opened my “report pollution” email account first as I always do. After all, that’s my job. I received an email from a woman who lived along Carpenter Creek. She stated that there was a large amount of trash accumulating in her back yard, washed down from upstream. Large trees had fallen into the creek and the trash was piled up in a logjam. My heart sank. How could this be? Innocent residents, going about their business and they wake up to this? How did it get there? Who is responsible, if anyone? Can you imagine? You go into your back yard and see a nasty, smelly health hazard? Beer bottles, smelly soiled diapers, Styrofoam cups, plastic bags, chicken bones, and much more were sprawled along the creek.
In my investigation, I spoke with the City and County offices, trying to obtain information towards the resolution of the problem. Both offices stated that they could not remove the logjam because it was contained on the residents’ property. Therefore, the residents were required to clean it up. So now we have downed trees, garbage and 10’-15’ of property erosion and no one can help them. What’s worse, it’s not the property owners’ fault.
Coming up with the origin of the trash was first on the agenda. Because Carpenter creek runs through the uptown of Pensacola, big box stores, hospitals, and residential communities paint the majority of this five-mile watershed. Of course, urban development has everything to do with the problems. Urban development allowed in a riparian zone destroys the natural ability for stormwater to recharge aquifers through direct percolation. When you take away that important watershed easement and build parking facilities, the stormwater has no other choice than to run off into the lowest contour line, the creek. With no percolation or filter, everything on the parking lots including floatables and animal waste ends up directly in the creek, hence the reason why Carpenter Creek is on the EPA’s 303d list of impaired water bodies. It eventually empties into Bayou Texar, which is also on the list. High levels of Fecal Coliform, Mercury and Nutrients were determined back in 2002. Significant erosion, only exacerbated by the April 2014 flood is also a constant problem and creates the felled trees, resulting in the logjams.
So how do we fix the problem and give the residents along the creek some relief? Beginning with the City Code Enforcement office, code violations have gone out to businesses and apartment communities for harboring a significant amount of trash. These areas are being cleaned up now. The next step is the Carpenter Creek Clean Up hosted by Emerald Coastkeeper. As a Waterkeeper, I spent many hours walking the creek and identifying other underlying issues, such as hardened creek stabilization, old stormwater drains without the proper volume and velocity measures implemented and a significant amount of trash and debris, such as rusted shopping carts, tires, electronics, furniture, plastic, cans, bottles, tarps and more. This clean up will be the beginning of the relief and repair of this watershed.
The next phase will be to remove the non-native plant species. There are a variety of non-native plants that are choking out the native species, such as privet, potato vines, and popcorn trees. These will be removed in phases due to the intricate nature and difficulty in their permanent removal. These plant species provide no significant value to our ecosystem.
Education and outreach are greatly needed for this community. We can all become mindful of our waterways and continue to repair them so that the community can enjoy them once again as a fun and beautiful recreational site. Did you know that folks used to dive off of platforms and canoe and kayak down Carpenter Creek?
The most important and exciting part of this watershed is the Carpenter Creek RESTORE project. Some very special people in our community that have spent many years in this creek helped put this project together. The creek will become fully restored with greenways and noted historical artifacts for everyone’s viewing pleasure! We have Pensacola Beach, we have Downtown Revitalization and now we will have an uptown gem right in the middle of Pensacola’s premier shopping district. How neat is that!
How can you help? We have a lot of work to do! Pulling together as a community will make it a success! Our clean up is this Saturday, December 3rd from 8AM to 3PM. We will meet at the Publix Shopping Center on 9th Avenue. Emerald Coastkeeper is providing gloves, bags, food and water. Let’s bring the Lost Creek back to life!
I would like to thank the following sponsors for their help in bringing this community effort together:
City of Pensacola (Sherri Myers and Larry Johnson)
City of Pensacola Sanitation Department
Escambia County Sanitation Department
Publix Grocery Store
Miller’s Ale House
By: Laurie Murphy, Executive Director and Coastkeeper