Lower American River water quality monitoring shows elevated levels of E. coli bacteria

By on April 18, 2018

Weekly water quality testing for E. coli bacteria along the Lower American River has indicated elevated levels of the bacteria at some sites posing an increased risk to recreational users of the river. E. coli is an indicator bacteria used to identify fecal pollution from human, pet, livestock or wildlife waste. Most strains of E. coli are harmless but elevated levels indicate that pathogens could be present that can sicken swimmers and others who use the river.

The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board (Central Valley Water Board) is conducting the weekly testing at nine sites on the American River.  Information gathered by the testing will help county health officials and park managers better determine the level of risk to people who use the river for recreational activities including boating, fishing, kayaking and swimming. Elevated levels could lead to public warnings or restricted access to the waterway. Thus far there have been no reported illnesses linked to E. coli exposure according to officials with Sacramento County.

Sampling for E. coli bacteria offers a way to monitor the overall well-being of recreational waterways. The lower American River was placed on California’s list of impaired waters last year because of elevated E. coli levels. Water bodies are added to the list when monitoring data does not meet water quality standards.

The Central Valley Water Board will continue with expanded water testing throughout the summer, when recreational use of the river is at its highest use. They will continue to inform the public about E. coli levels and the potential risk of illness and they will work with county health officials and park managers if any action is needed for the safety and well-being of the public.

Additionally, the Sacramento Area Sewer District and Sacramento County have partnered with the Central Valley Water Board to do a separate study to identify the specific sources of fecal pollution in the river. The sewer district and the county will be funding the study to determine whether the bacteria is from human, pet, wildlife or livestock sources. The study design is being finalized with monitoring implementation to soon follow.

Data from the study will be provided to Sacramento County health officials and parks managers, who will review the data and posting warnings or restrict access to specific waterways, as needed. Questions regarding the county’s review of the data and postings should be directed to Brenda Bongiorno, Sacramento County communications and media officer, at 916-874-7798.

When recreating in the American River, or any river or lake, it is important to pay attention and heed any warning signs and postings. Additional healthy water habits to be followed include:

  • Actively supervise children and pets in or near water.
  • Do not access waterbody if posted warnings indicate it is not safe to do so.
  • People with immuno-suppressive diseases should avoid direct contact with the river
  • Do not drink water from the river or use river water for cooking.
  • Do not enter the water if you have cuts or open sores as these are pathways for bacteria to enter your body.
  • Do not change diapers in or near water.
  • Do not swim when you are sick.
  • Avoid algae blooms (brightly colored water) and trash in the water.
  • Wash your hands or shower after swimming.
  • Do not enter the water for several days after a significant rainstorm. Storm flows spike bacteria levels, which decrease with time.
  • If you have concerns regarding your family’s health, contact your healthcare provider immediately.

E. coli water sampling results from the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board are available at: http://www.sacparks.net/Parks/E-Coli/Pages/ParkStatus.aspx.