Through Soundkeeper’s Lost Urban Creeks program, this youth leadership program spent a year monitoring water quality on Springbrook Creek in Renton. They’ve identified some steps the city and their local community can take to improve the health of a former salmon-bearing stream. 

Springbrook Creek in Renton once supported healthy runs of Chinook salmon. Its headwaters are still so pure that the City of Renton uses it for drinking water. But the creek’s lower stretches are obscured by industrial development, overrun by invasive species and polluted by stormwater runoff. Its ancient runs of Chinook salmon are no more. 

Enter Unleash the Brilliance (UTB), a unique youth mentoring organization in South King County. 

Through a partnership with Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, Sno-King Watershed Council, Forterra and others, youth from Unleash the Brilliance have spent a year studying, stewarding and celebrating Springbrook Creek. UTB also removed 500 pounds of garbage from the creek and reported additional dumping to local authorities.

Unleash the Brilliance monitored eight locations in Springbrook and its tributary Creeks (Mill and Panther). The water quality data collected included the stream’s levels of dissolved oxygen, temperature, pH, conductivity, turbidity (to name a few). In the summer dry season, UTB saw that dissolved oxygen levels dropped below state standards, and temperatures and turbidity were elevated in several sites.  UTB also conducted bioassessments at four sites, looking at stream invertebrates (aka, “bugs”) to determine if the stream supported healthy organisms. The downstream sites sampled showed poor biological conditions. 

Based on these findings, the youth from Unleash the Brilliance discussed a number of recommendations for how to improve Springbrook. Their suggestions included evaluating how nutrients are impacting water quality; investigating further where dissolved oxygen is dropping in the creek to address flow and stagnation issues in the lower basin; increasing stream-side restoration to better shade the creek; and building green stormwater infustructure to address stormwater pollution entering the creek. 

“I think learning about water quality is preparing me for the real world,” said Emanuel, a two-year UTB participant. “I never really thought of myself pursuing a career as a biologist or anything relating to water before but with these new skills I’ve learned, it has opened me to a world of new possibilities.”

Puget Soundkeeper’s Lost Urban Creeks project empowers and mentors youth in environmental literacy, water quality monitoring, and restoration techniques while simultaneously restoring freshwater streams that are abused and neglected. Lost Urban Creeks often flow through communities most impacted by pollution and environmental injustice, highlighting the social and economic inequities in our region.