Kiefer Creek: At Your Own Risk

by Lorin Crandall


You may be familiar with Kiefer Creek—it’s the creek running through Castlewood State Park. One of the premier outdoor recreation areas in the Greater St. Louis Area, Castlewood encompasses 1818 acres in southwest St. Louis County and is host to over 400,000 visitors a year.


Kiefer Creek has a compelling natural beauty and is a major asset to the park. Trails follow and cross Kiefer all the way up to its confluence with the Meramec River. On a hot summer day you might see a family picnicking on its banks, the kids playing in the creek.


Unfortunately, Kiefer Creek often carries high levels of bacterial contamination. In 1996 the United States Geological Survey (USGS) began intensive water quality testing at their monitoring station in Kiefer Creek, just upstream from where it enters Castlewood State Park. The creek was tested for a wide range of contaminants including three types of bacteria: fecal coliform, fecal streptococci, and E. coli. These bacteria come from the stomachs of mammals and are indicators of the levels of dangerous bacterial pathogens in a water body. The USGS conducted 49 tests from 1996 to 2004; 80% of the tests found levels of bacteria that exceeded the safe level for full body contact recreation, and 35% of the tests turned up counts that exceeded the level deemed safe by 100 times or more.


In 2004, the water quality testing was transferred from the USGS to St. Louis Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD), and bacteria levels dropped significantly. This reduction is not because MSD miraculously made the stream cleaner and safer. Rather, MSD began timing their testing strategically; MSD knows that the best time to get low levels of contamination is when it hasn’t rained for a while. When it rains pathogens are picked up from septic systems and animal waste and carried downstream. Despite this, MSD’s tests still show levels of contamination that far exceed safe levels.


Regrettably, Kiefer Creek is not classified for whole body contact recreation. If you, your family, or your friends have spent any time in Kiefer Creek since 1975, please go to http://tinyurl.com/recreationaluseform and submit a comment regarding your use of the creek. These comments will help convince the Clean Water Commission and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources that Kiefer Creek should be safe for whole body contact recreational activities.