On the banks of Nolan Creek, a long-necked bird darts from under the North Amy Lane bridge to nearby foliage, and a salamander scurries up a tree whose loose roots appear to probe for soil above a concrete block pile.
What will be the fate of these critters, and fish that swim among bacterial dams, or cesspools, caused by fallen trees?
Belton resident Kevin Prince would like to see a habitat conducive to human recreation, without the food wrappers, plastic bags and fabrics that strew the creek bank. And combat the hidden problems.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has designated parts of the 9½-mile stream, which runs from Killeen to Belton, as "non-wadeable" because of high E. coli counts.
When Prince discovered this in summer 2012, he started the nonprofit Texas Rivers Conservation Association.
“I just thought we could go in and clean the creek, clean the trash out of it, get everybody together … float down the river (and) pick up trash,” Prince said. “Then, I realized that there’s a lot of other things involved.”
Along with dense E. coli, Nolan Creek experiences floods. Prince said Killeen’s concrete drainage ditches and development expedite water flow, which can overwhelm certain areas downstream and spur catastrophes like the 2010 Nolanville flood.
Part of the Nolan Creek Watershed stakeholders group, Prince discusses improvement strategies with the City of Killeen, but problems must first be pinpointed, he said.
Prince completed the 40-hour Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Texas Master Naturalist course, and is partnering with Tarleton State scientists to test water quality, he said.
He plans to form a six- to 10-member TRCA steering committee next week, before getting test-certified in September through Texas State’s Texas Stream Team program.
“The main thing with TRCA is we’d like it to be a community project,” Prince said.
Academic partnerships can strengthen a cause, said TCEQ spokeswoman Andrea Morrow. Accurate water testing requires training.
“It is helpful to add to the body of knowledge that we have, particularly because we can’t be everywhere every time,” she said.
Prince would like to kayak downstream, and map debris- and trash-ridden areas on a GPS device before cleaning, he said. AmericanRivers.org has given his group 1,500 trash bags to use during 90 days.
Melanie Thomas is a writer for the group and has been working with them since May, she said.
“Just like our parents asked us to clean up our rooms, we have to clean up the area that we live in,” Thomas said. “We need to keep it clean and not just do whatever with it.”