Lacamas Creek will run red, for research

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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If you see Lacamas Creek and its tributaries running a fluorescent reddish color this week, don’t worry. There was no toxic spill that discolored the water. No environmental disaster.

The state Department of Ecology meant to do that.

Researchers plan to release a fluorescent dye into the water system today, Wednesday and Thursday evenings to get a better sense of how the stream behaves. The dye — harmless to humans, fish or other wildlife, according to state officials — allows researchers to track water speed and flow by measuring the concentration of the dye plume in different parts of the creek.

The dye is commonly used for that kind of research, ecology officials say.

Researchers hope to learn more about Lacamas Creek’s water quality problems through the measurements. The creek falls below water quality standards on numerous fronts, including fecal coliform bacteria, temperature, oxygen levels and being too acidic in different locations, according to state officials. The creek flows into Lacamas Lake.

Once the dye has been released, scientists on site will test for various factors that could lead to higher water temperatures or lack of oxygen. Water might become too warm if it flows too slowly through areas exposed to direct sunlight, for example.

The dye dissipates quickly, and should be gone by the morning after it’s released, officials say. The Department of Ecology has received permission from property owners to access sampling sites.