Energy Adviser: Volunteers guard water quality

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If you are looking for a volunteer opportunity for Make a Difference Day, which falls on Oct. 27 this year, consider planting trees with Clark Public Utilities' StreamTeam.

Last year, 187 volunteers planted 1,078 trees along Mill Creek on the Washington State University Vancouver campus, said Ashley King, who coordinates the StreamTeam for the utility.

"It's a very festive atmosphere," King said. "It's great for families."

It's also a good way to get acquainted with the StreamTeam, a group of 1,000 volunteers who donate 3,500 hours of their time each year to help bring salmon back to the Salmon Creek watershed.

The 89-square-mile watershed extends from the foothills of the Cascade Range west to Lake River.

Clark Public Utilities provides water to its 30,740 customers with 34 wells that tap groundwater within the Salmon Creek watershed. The quality of this drinking water, drawn from deep aquifers, remains excellent, although rapid urbanization has hurt Salmon Creek.

Fed by Mill, Woodin, Rock, Morgan and Curtin creeks, Salmon Creek has suffered over the last few decades as forests and pastures have given way to strip malls and subdivisions.

The StreamTeam has worked hard since 1992 to improve Salmon Creek's health. Volunteers have planted more than 700,000 trees to restore 400 acres along 17 miles of streams.

"The tree roots help prevent erosion and filter out pollutants before they get to the water," King said. "Trees are great at improving water quality. They are beneficial for people who get water from that watershed, as well as for the wildlife that use that water."

In addition to planting trees, StreamTeam members also monitor plant survival, water quality and wildlife, as well as reach out to others to teach them about protecting the watershed.

The StreamTeam also helps remove invasive plants such as garlic mustard and Japanese knotweed, which limit plant diversity when they spread. When garlic mustard takes over, the insect population becomes less diverse, leaving fish with fewer kinds of bugs to eat. Knotweed's loose root structure does little to stabilize stream banks, so that soil washes into streams and covers salmon spawning grounds.

Who are these watershed defenders? StreamTeam members include utility employees, scout groups, college students, youth groups and members of Stream Stewards, another utility program.

Stream Stewards offers participants a six-week course to learn about riparian and wetland habitat, geology, hydrology, wildlife, water quality and stream restoration. In exchange, they agree to volunteer 45 hours.

If you want to join the StreamTeam in helping bring more salmon back to Salmon Creek, participating in the Make a Difference Day planting event is a good way to delve in. Volunteers will meet at 8:45 a.m. Oct. 27 on the university campus to plant trees until noon. Volunteers receive lunch, much of it donated by local businesses, such as Tommy O's, Frito-Lay and Corwin Beverages.

The utility will provide the trees and tools. You'll want to wear work gloves and clothes you can get muddy. Registration is required, so call 360-992-8585 or email streamteam@clarkpud.com by Oct. 19.

Even if you don't participate in the event, you can help prevent water pollution:

• Don't dump motor oil, paint and other toxic materials into storm drains.

• Avoid or limit the use of herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers.n Don't dump yard debris or grass clippings into ravines, ditches or streams.

Energy adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to energyadviser@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.