Riverkeeper: E. Coli found in rivers ‘not a cause for concern’

Published 3:39 pm Monday, September 2, 2019

Samples collected by Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper on August 27 and 28 detected significantly elevated E. coli at 5 of 21sites tested and E. coli exceeded the Alabama single sample standard for E. coli at 7 additional sites. E. coli tends to go up immediately after rainfall runoff events and then go down rather rapidly as runoff dilutes the runoff waters or the runoff stops.

According to Michael Mullen, Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper, these temporary increases in E. coli in these cases should not be a cause for serious concern but they should reinforce that swimming in natural waters during or soon after a “first flush event” or runoff early in a rainfall/runoff event, especially after a dry period can expose people to elevated bacteria levels.

Mullen said swimming after a rainfall/runoff event while the water is still turbid or cloudy carries some increased risk of contact with bacteria and viruses in the water. Most E. coli bacteria is not infectious and the E. coli in testing is a surrogate for other bacteria and viruses that might cause infection, he said.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

One of the sites tested, the swimming beach at Lake Jackson in Florala, was resampled the next day and bacteria levels had already fallen significantly. The City of Florala has taken steps to reduce the possible sources of contamination and get some local testing in place. Tracking down the source(s) bacteria contributing to elevated E. coli in first flush events can be difficult

and completely eliminating them may prove impossible. Reducing activities that can produce bacteria in runoff is however possible and is being done in Florala.

Unfortunately, the public has overreacted to reports of bacteria contamination at Lake Jackson in Florala, Mullen said.

Lake Jackson is a beautiful, clean lake, a unique lake in Alabama. The public misunderstanding of the situation and health risks is depriving potential lake users of healthy, enjoyable recreational activities, Mullen said. Since 1996 there was until the latest August observations, only one E. coli value in the main swimming area that would generate a warning level.

The bacteria levels observed recently at the lake and previously were from samples collected after a rainfall-runoff event. Any significant risk to beach/lake users is for a short time after the runoff event only.

Mullen said it is noteworthy that only one of four samples collected on August 27 was elevated well above the standard for E. coli and another was marginally elevated. It is also noteworthy that samples collected the following day showed that bacteria levels had returned to acceptable levels.

A couple of the other five sites where testing showed significantly high E. coli were to be retested on Labor Day. The other two sites are not used by large numbers of people and will not be rested right away.

The data from the samples in the Pea River area a U. S. Highway 231 were clear as were the samples collected at Pea River Highway 167. There was a warning for Pea River at Coffee County Road 147 and cautions issued at Pea River at Coffee County Road 251 and Pea River at Geneva County Road 17.

A warning was also issued for Big Creek at Coffee County Road 342.

Data for the August testing and historical data for these sites is available to citizens through the free SWIM Guide app.

For more information call 334-807-1365.