Earth Notes - Fossil Creek Revisited

Flagstaff, AZ – Almost three years after Arizona Public Service decommissioned the Childs and Irving power plants on Fossil Creek, a restoration success story has blossomed.

Fossil Creek starts from springs below the Mogollon Rim in central Arizona. It's one of just a few streams in the Southwest with the chemistry to produce travertine, which can form beige dams and pale blue pools that look like paradise. But its waters had been diverted for hydroelectricity for nearly a century.

In 2004, researchers airlifted native fish out of the creek and used chemicals to kill non-native fish like green sunfish, carp and smallmouth bass. After the chemicals dissolved, the native fish were put back in.

Researchers also built a fish barrier to make sure that non-native fish can't swim into the creek from the Verde River.

Finally, the diversion of the creek's water was discontinued in 2005. The creek flowed again. Native fish like chub, speckled dace, and Sonora suckers showed a quick rebound.

But the increase in water could spell trouble for the fragile riparian ecosystem. Kayakers drawn to the creek scrape new travertine dams with their boats, possibly reducing the depth of the pools the fish need. And heavy recreational use along the banks produces trash, trampling, and human waste.

Arizona legislators John McCain and Rick Renzi have proposed to designate Fossil Creek as a National Wild and Scenic River. That may bring the Forest Service some resources to not only manage water and fish, but human impacts too.

-Anne Minard