size 3 doc martens Officials work to identify source of elevated levels of E coli in sections of Mill and Pack creeks
This summer, state and local officials will work to pinpoint the source of E. coli bacteria in Mill Creek after discovering levels that exceed health standards for swimming at sample sites beginning where the creek crosses Mill Creek Drive in Moab.
The high E. coli levels have forced the Youth Garden Project (YGP) staff to find other ways for the nonprofit’s summer camp participants to cool off during the hot weather. YGP officials were notified by the Southeast Utah Health Department that an area of the creek near YGP’s property on 400 East which was frequented by camp participants has been deemed unsafe for swimming.
“Once we heard the unfortunate news, weimmediately notified parents andmodified our summer campschedule,” Linford said. “The safety of our youth is priority [number one] and we thank the health department for keeping our team in the loop.”
Orion Rogers, environmental health scientist for the Southeast Utah Department of Health, said the more highly recreated areas of Mill Creek including near the power dam and above are currently measured as safe for swimming.
However, once Mill Creek crosses Mill Creek Drive, Rogers said, “samples go through the roof” for the presence of E. coli.
Rogers said he had been notified about the E. coli numbers in Mill Creek, but did not initially believe it posed a great safety risk because very little recreational swimming occurs in the affected part of the creek.
“When I found out that [YGP campers] were swimming down there, it essentially became my liability, I felt,” Rogers said. “They’re at a higher risk than a healthy adult. When they’re down there swimming, kids don’t keep their mouth shut, they’re really getting into the water.”
E. coli a type of bacteria commonly found in the intestines and feces of humans and animals can contaminate food as well as bodies of water. Although most E. coli bacteria are harmless, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say some are pathogenic, meaning they can cause illness such as diarrhea and urinary tract infections.
Rogers said that like other bacteria that cause infections, E. coli is especially dangerous for children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems.
“It can potentially make you very ill,” Rogers said.
When he brought the bad news to the unknowing swimmers at YGP, Rogers said, the staff at the nonprofit immediately complied with his “no swim” order.
Linford told The Times Independent that YGP plans to beat the heat with other water based activities this summer, including slip n slides.
“We have already had multiple donations from our community to increase the water based activities on YGP’s grounds,” Linford said.
For the last three years, Moab Area Watershed Partnership (MAWP) Coordinator Arne Hultquist has measured water quality parameters, including E. coli, in Mill Creek, Pack Creek and Castle Creek. Hulquist said Ken’s Lake and Mill Creek just below the power dam “do not and never have” exceeded the E. coli standard for swimming,
however all of the sample locations on Mill Creek and Pack Creek within town do.
Utah’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) says the E. coli threshold for contact is 409 MPN (most probably number) a measurement of the number of bacteria per 100 milliliters (mL) of water.
DEQ documents say 409 MPN relates to a risk factor of eight illnesses per 1,000 swimmers. But as the MPN value rises above 409, the chance for illness and exposure also increases.
One sample location at Mill Creek and Mill Creek Drive tested at 721 MPN in 2014, 495 MNP in 2015, and then dropped to 104.5 MPN in 2016. Similarly high numbers were found at sample locations at Mill Creek and 500 West. Where Mill Creek and Pack Creek intersected, the numbers fluctuated from 1,262 MPN in 2014, 1,444 in 2015, to 603 in 2016.
“Some of it is really high and that’s unfortunate,” Hultquist said.
Scott Hacking, Utah Division of Water Quality (DWQ) district engineer for the Southeast Utah District, called for more intensive sampling to definitively spotlight the problem areas with E. coli.
“. Now it is time to hone in and do more intensive sampling to see if the problem area still persists, and if so, define exactly where on Mill Creek there could be a problem, and then do the ‘detective work’ and figure out where the problem might be human or animal,” Hacking said.
DWQ officials, along with Rogers at the health department and Hultquist at MAWP, will attempt to pinpoint the exact location of the E. coli source on Mill Creek, beginning with meetings this July.
Mike Allred, an environmental scientist at DWQ, said E. coli bacteria come from a variety of sources improper waste dumps, domesticated animals like livestock and concentrations of wildlife.
Although they have no conclusive evidence at this point, local and state officials already suspect a malfunctioning septic system to be the culprit in Mill Creek.
“We can’t conclusively say that that’s it, but in view of the fact that we don’t see problems higher up by power dam where a whole bunch of people are swimming, but we do see it down where there are houses [on a sewer system], it leads us to believe that’s probably the source,” Allred said.
Allred said some of Hulquist’s samples have returned trace evidence of laundry detergent as well, which suggests to the scientists that a human source might be affecting Mill Creek.