What’s Broken in the Creek? Common Water Quality Problems in Urban Streams


Home / What’s Broken in the Creek? Common Water Quality Problems in Urban Streams

A healthy stream contains diverse environments.
Photo: nukeit1/CC by 2.0

Ouch! Too Much Sediment in the Water

Thick sediment in the water causes turbidity, or water that’s hard to see through. While all streams will have occasional turbidity due to storm events, consistently turbid water may be a problem. Turbid water in an otherwise clean stream can make it hard for animals to breathe and reproduce.

The Stream Lacks Diverse Physical Spaces

A stream is much more than just water. It’s a whole assembly of rocks, logs, animals, plants, soil, and surrounding environments. Water is just one part of the equation.

In urban and suburban environments, streams can be a lot different than the natural, free-flowing streams in more rural areas. Urban areas may have water, but this water is channeled into tubes underneath the city. There’s no connection between the water and natural air flow, sunlight, plants and animals. When people talk about daylighting a creek, this is what they’re referring to: Bringing a creek out of a tunnel and into the open, where it can interact with all of those diverse elements that turn a water body into a living ecosystem.

A stream in the open air, but tucked into a concrete channel, will have less habitat diversity. In a groomed and managed landscape, where leaves and wood no longer fall into the water, and where the water rushes at a consistent pace through a concrete waterway, it’s harder for a diversity of animals to find homes in the creek.

Creek Health: Keep Small Waterways Ecologically Diverse and Thriving

By examining the stream’s physical space, and the toxins, pH, temperature, and dissolved oxygen levels in the water, you can determine what’s going on in a local stream. If there are problems with the animals in the creek, it’s likely due to trouble in the water itself – or to a lack of diversity in stream habitats.


Department of Ecology. Citizen’s Guide to Understanding and Monitoring Lakes and Streams. (1991). Accessed March 18, 2013.

Landcare Research. Freshwater Invertebrates Guide (New Zealand). (2013). Accessed March 18, 2013.

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