By Derek Spellman
Bacteria levels in parts of Spring River and Lost Creek are high enough that the Eastern Shawnee Tribe is urging swimmers to stay out of those waters.
Parts of Center and Turkey creeks also have showed elevated bacteria levels in Jasper County.
Samples drawn from the two waterways in northeastern Ottawa County, Okla., showed excess levels of the E. coli bacteria and prompted a swimming advisory until further tests show the levels have declined, according to a release issued Thursday by the tribe.
The state has set a standard of 235 colonies per 100 milliliters of water. Samples taken earlier this week from Lost Creek near the Oklahoma-Missouri state line showed 2,419 colonies, while samples from Spring River at the Highway 10 bridge in Ottawa County had 866 colonies.
Elevated E. coli levels typically are found after heavy rains. High levels of the bacteria indicate the presence of pathogenic microorganisms that increase the risk for illness. Symptoms of such illness include nausea, vomiting, stomach ache, diarrhea, headache and fever. Minor swimming illnesses include ear, eye, nose and throat infections.
The Eastern Shawnee Tribe conducts biweekly tests of the waters for E. coli.
The Jasper County Health Department also conducts regular tests of local waterways, largely consisting of points on Center Creek, Spring River and Turkey Creek.
Samples drawn this week from 21 sites on six waterways in the county showed that 11 of those sites had colonies in excess of the 235-colony threshold, according to the Health Department.
Two points on Turkey Creek — specifically at Lone Elm and Fox Bluff — showed more than 2,400 colonies each, while another at Kenser Road had more than 1,553 colonies. A site on Spring River near County Road 270 showed more than 435 colonies, while four points along Center Creek showed bacteria levels as low as 238.2 and as high as 1,046.2.
Dry Fork at County Road 100 had 1,413.6 colonies, while Jones Creek at County Road 130 had a reading of 331.4 colonies, North Fork at County Road 210 showed 410.6 colonies.
Potential sources of E. coli include septic systems, agriculture and wild animal waste, said Tony Moehr, director of the Jasper County Health Department.
The department does not post swimming advisories at the sites after the high readings, Moehr said, because the levels fluctuate so much.
This week’s samples, for example, were gathered after rainfall. Last week, by comparison, none of the 21 sites exceeded 235. The highest reading then was 193.5 colonies at the Jones Creek site.
“They are just so dynamic,” Moehr said of the stream bacteria levels, noting they fluctuate particularly during the rainy months.
He did say the department posts its stream test results on its Web site. The department also urges people to use caution whenever they go into a natural stream, saying there is never a guarantee of water quality when it comes to bacteria in a natural waterway.
Moehr also reminded people to be aware that heavy rainfall usually leads to an increase in bacteria in streams, and that people with open cuts or sores should refrain from swimming in natural streams or waterways.
The Newton County Health Department used to regularly test a number of waterways in the county. Director Bob Kulp said the department had to discontinue that monitoring for budget reasons last year. Staff used to gather samples from about 40 sites throughout the county.
“Our budget is so tight,” Kulp said, particularly in light of the national economy.
He did say he hoped a monitoring program could be reinstituted in the future via the local watershed organizations, such as the Lower Shoal Creek Watershed Committee, which could be eligible for grant funding.
News you can use
If you do go into water with high bacteria levels, don’t get any of the water in your mouth. Swimmers should shower and wash their hands afterward, especially before eating, keep food away from the water, and clean any toys or other items brought into the water, according to the Eastern Shawnee Tribe.
By Derek Spellman
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