By Erika Hill, public relations director, Nebraska’s Natural Resources Districts
On Oct. 18, 2018, city, state and federal officials announced Antelope Creek was removed from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Impaired Waters list for E.coli. Only 90 creeks in the nation have been removed from the list in the last 15 years, and only 14 of those are in urban areas.
Antelope Creek runs for 11 miles through Lincoln, Neb., and was first added to the Clean Water Act List of Impaired Waters by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) in 2004, when E.coli bacteria levels were more than 25 times the water quality standard. A creek, stream, river, pond or lake can be removed from the Impaired Waters list only if it meets water quality standards set by the NDEQ and approved by the EPA.
For more than 20 years, the City of Lincoln, Neb., Lower Platte South Natural Resources District (LPSNRD), the University of Nebraska, NDEQ, Nebraska Environmental Trust and other partners and local businesses have made a collaborative effort to improve Antelope Creek and the surrounding area. The Antelope Valley Project, which reduced flooding, improved traffic flow and spurred revitalization in the core of Lincoln, also exposed the creek water to more sunlight, which helped break down the E.coli bacteria.
“The Antelope Creek project symbolizes the kind of can-do spirit that energizes Nebraskans to work together to solve tough problems and be good stewards of our natural resources,” said Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts. “Because of this project, homes and businesses are protected from floods, traffic flows more smoothly, new projects are flourishing along the stream corridor, and new venues for recreation were created. Thank you to the numerous partners who helped make today a reality.”
E.coli, which can be found in any body of water, is a species of bacteria specific to fecal material from people and warm-blooded animals and can occur naturally. Since the mid-2000s, Antelope Creek has benefited from about 15 stormwater quality improvement projects and two major flood control projects with funding from local, state and federal sources. Residents and businesses along and near Antelope Creek have installed sustainable landscaping projects, including the installation of 119 residential rain gardens. Permeable pavers and rain gardens have been installed in key locations throughout the creek area. Other projects have included Assurity Life Insurance Company’s green roof and the Lincoln Children’s Zoo’s installation of rain gardens and special storm drain inlets designed to filter animal waste and sediment.
“Improving and preserving our environmental resources for future generations is difficult, but it is essential,” Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler said. “Every single one of us must commit to changing our routines. And if you’ve ever wondered if your small actions on a daily basis make a difference, remember Antelope Creek. Consistent effort by many parties has made a huge difference, and as a result, residents who come in contact with Antelope Creek won’t have to worry as much about E. coli infections. Pets are safer if they accidentally drink from the stream. And one more waterway that feeds our recreational water system just got cleaner.”
“The removal and de-listing of Antelope Creek for E.coli contamination is a tribute to the vision, courage and tenacity of the many local, state and federal partners who coordinated efforts to create a safe, healthy and vital resource for the City of Lincoln,” NDEQ Director Jim Macy said. “This is a historic accomplishment for Nebraska and among only a handful of similar successes in the nation.”
“The removal of Antelope Creek from the U.S. EPA Impaired Waters list is a result of strong commitment to the environment by many agencies and groups,” LPSNRD Board Chair Ray Stevens said. “The Lower Platte South NRD is proud to be involved in keeping Lincoln a safe and healthy place to live,”
“Success stories like this don’t happen without partnership,” EPA Region 7 Administrator Jim Gulliford said. “Local solutions and partnership can lead to big changes in water quality. The City of Lincoln, the Lower Platte Natural Resources District, NDEQ, and the University of Nebraska – the whole team should be proud of what they’ve accomplished in Antelope Creek.”