Source of frustration

Investigation continues into polluting of creek through storm drain
Oregon Department of Wildlife fish biologist Chuck Fustish is reflected in Elk Creek as suds from a chemical spill float down the stream off Beall Lane in Central Point. Mail Tribune / Bob PennellBob Pennell

Public works officials are investigating the source of sudsy contaminants that have been polluting a small urban creek in north Medford and south Central Point.

Discovered Thursday by a state fisheries biologist, the pollutants were traced to a Medford storm drain that flows into little Elk Creek, a tributary of Bear Creek, city officials said.

How to help

Anyone who sees possible pollutants in Oregon waters should call the Oregon Emergency Response System hot line at 800-452-0311.

As Medford city workers scrambled to pinpoint the source, the bubbly contaminants continued to flow down the small stream Friday, polluting a stream known to hold wild steelhead at times.

"My crews were pulling manholes yesterday trying to find out where it was coming from, but we haven't been able to find anything," Medford Public Works Director Corey Crebbin said Friday.

The Medford Fire Department's hazardous-materials team took a sample of the pollutant Thursday but have been unable to identify the substance, Crebbin said.

Its bubbly nature indicates it likely is not an oil-based contaminant and more likely a surfactant, such as a detergent, Crebbin said.

Fire crews placed a boom in the creek near the intersection of Sage Road and Highway 99 to capture the substance, but a broken ribbon of bubbles continued down Elk Creek on Friday.

Crebbin said booms are more effective at trapping oily substances in waterways than surfactants.

Dumping contaminants of any form in a storm drain violates city codes and could result in penalties under state water-pollution laws.

"A lot of people think these storm drains are connected to the sewage treatment plant, but they're not," Crebbin said.

The city code carries a penalty of up to $1,000, but fines are rare, Crebbin said.

"By the time it shows up in the creek it's pretty hard to track down," he said.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife fish biologist Chuck Fustish said he often takes a quick look at the creek on his drive to work and this time the stretch near his home looked odd.

"I saw a whole bunch of suds coming down the creek," Fustish said. "It's not supposed to have bubbles like that."

He telephoned the Oregon Emergency Response System to report it.

Former ODFW surveys in the creek found juvenile steelhead using it in the winter, and the tributary likely serves as a refuge for young steelhead trying to avoid Bear Creek during freshets, Fustish said. Its gravely bottom also could be home at times to adult spawning steelhead, Fustish said.

Fustish said that anyone who sees possible pollutants in Oregon waters should call the emergency response hot line at 800-452-0311.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at

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