A far-reaching and potentially expensive plan to clean up the Bear Creek watershed so people can swim and fish again will mandate local cities and other agencies to repair stream banks, remove pollutants and filter storm water.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality plan released Thursday will require six local cities, Jackson County and other agencies to develop proposals for cleaning up about 500 miles of waterways that feed into Bear Creek.

Despite increased development, during the past 10 years the quality of water in Bear Creek has improved from very poor to a poor rating according to federal guidelines, thanks to clean up efforts by communities. Department of Environmental Quality’s Rogue Basin coordinator Bill Myers said the goal is to get at least a “good” rating.

Achieving the target will require extensive planting along Bear Creek and 11 other creeks that flow through Medford, Ashland, Jacksonville, Central Point, Phoenix and Talent to create a canopy of vegetation that keeps water temperatures cool for fish.

Fecal coliform bacteria, which come from human or animal waste, are a problem in nine creeks. Jackson County and cities will have to develop plans in the next 18 months to encourage residents to fix septic systems or prevent animal waste from contaminating streams.

In addition, cities will have to do a better job of collecting runoff, which is often contaminated with oil, animal waste and other pollutants.

— Damian Mann