Does anyone know the true water quality at Confluence - Mountain Buzz

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Old 04-14-2004   #1
Join Date: Dec 2003
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Does anyone know the true water quality at Confluence

I've heard good and bad things about the water in the Platte. I'm from Kansas so I'm no stranger to beige water. I 'd love to paddel there but stories of cancer causeing chemicals and industrial waste are not somthing to take lightly. Can some one tell me where to get an accurate water quality report.

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Old 04-14-2004   #2
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In my opinion, Confluence bashing is a lot of hype. If the place sucks it is because of the lame playspots and not the dirty water. (OK, so I love it because it is close to home, and nice and warm because of the power plants.)

You should definitely wear a nose plug, and don't drink the water, but, come on, you are not going to get cancer from paddling there. I have been there many times over the past years and cannot attribute any sickness, or “skin rash” from Consewage.

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Old 04-14-2004   #3
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Recently, in my microbiology class my professor, whom I believe to be a reputable source, told us that the south platte is on average over 70% effluent. That's really bad news for water quality.
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Old 04-14-2004   #4
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The South Platte happens to be a river in the USGS NAWQA program (National Water Quality Assessment) so there's a fair amount of data online. A quick search turned up this report :

PDF of whole report:

This report is a little dated (about 10 year old) but I'm sure there's more info available online. Joe is correct that streamflow on sections of the Platte can be mostly sewage discharge depending on base streamflow and how much the sewage treatment plant is releasing (particularly an issue below the Denver Municipal Wastewater plant in Commerce city, which is downstream of Confluence, I personally am never going to float the Henderson section, ever...). While sewage effluent is stinky and all around gross, perhaps the most pressing issue with the effluent is nutrient (N and P) release which can affect the stream by promoting algal growth and oxygen depletion.

At Confluence I think it's wise to be concerned with chemicals - particularly organic chemicals from pesticides and gasoline additives. After a dry spell, a big rain can flush lots of these via the storm sewer system... so when the water is rises quickly the chemical concentrations don't dilute, they actually spike, and water quality can get really bad. The report I mentioned gives details on surveys for various hazardous chemicals.... to summarize, urban surface waters were worse than agricultural and mixed-use areas for pesticides and other hazardous chemicals. They detected organic chemicals (most of those they measure are carcinogens) in most samples, but almost all levels were below EPA regulatory limits. So, interpret as you will....


ps, more subjectively,... last spring I got pinkeye the day after paddling confluence and I'm pretty convinced it came from the water...
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Old 04-14-2004   #5
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Wasn't there a study that showed Confluence being cleaner than the water in Boulder creek?
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Old 04-14-2004   #6
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Originally Posted by alexhenes

Wasn't there a study that showed Confluence being cleaner than the water in Boulder creek?
Not exactly. Though, good memory Alex! I got water samples from Confluence and Boulder Cr to test fecal coliforms in a micro class I taught a few years ago. Yes, we measured fewer fecal coliforms in the Confluence sample than in the Boulder Creek sample. (Coliforms are bacteria that indicate water contamination with feces from warm-blooded animals). But that doesn't mean that Confluence is "cleaner."

Lots of possible explanations:
-it was just one unreplicated grab sample, which really doesn't say much
-the water sample at BC could have been taken in a slow, warm, backwater that promotes coliform growth while Confluence could have been taken in a swiftly moving section
-Confluence could be so contaminated with chemicals that it is actually toxic to the coliforms
-the guy that took the coliform sample for me at Confluence could have somehow screwed up. (for example, he gave the sample to me in an antifreeze container. He said he rinsed it really well, but, still....) I didn't take the Confluence sample myself so I really can't say. And I wouldn't have chosen an old antifreeze container as a sample bottle

So, yeah,... I'd go with the NAWQA info available online.
Though it wasn't a total waste of time, my students liked looking for poop indicators in the rivers that I paddle.
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Old 04-14-2004   #7
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Hey Joe, yeah he's right. I got a wicked stye in my eye a few years ago because of Connie? She's an evil @#$$%! Steamboat friday, Willow saturday. . .

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Old 04-14-2004   #8
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Geez, Claire - you do this for a living? Nice points.

Seems like some folks never get sick there, others say they always do. Personally, I seem to have a few bouts with sinus stuff at the start of the Confluence season, then I'm fine.

While anyone can pick up a biological friend in the water in a few seconds, carcinogens are a different matter. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you need continued exposure to a certain amount over a prolonged time period to increase the risk of cancer. I recently posted that Clear Creek is full of nasty heavy metals and whatnot, but I'll never think twice about going to Golden because the amount I'm exposed to is so low.

Also, treated effluent is not hazardous to you. It's only when cities with a combined sewer system have massive runoff and dump untreated effluent with the storm water that you have a problem with effluent. Other than that lovely urban-water smell.

Tangent: On the Pigeon in TN, there are signs that say not to eat more than 1.5 pounds of fish per month if caught in that river (old paper mill). Tasty! At least the play is good.
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Old 04-14-2004   #9
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I agree with you Caspian. I'm more concerned with picking up an infection at Confluence than with the chemicals, but it's still an interesting issue. When you accidentally take a gulp and it tastes like gasoline, well,...

Cancer research is hard to wade through, but - you're right, what I remember from my toxicology classes is that chronic (long term) exposure is often needed. I'd bet you get a much higher dose of pesticides by eating non-organic food (dairy and meat especially) than by taking a sip of Confluence. So I suppose one approach is to buy organic, take your antioxidants, and go play in the swamp...
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Old 04-15-2004   #10
Evergreen, Colorado
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From a practical angle.....(maybe a bit off topic) I work with teenagers (I am a youth pastor) so confluence was a pretty decent place for them to learn some basics. Short, fairly easy swim, and straight forward rapid. I dont want them to get sick. So where is a good place to take them. Golden can make for a long swim. Boulder might be good?


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