RICHLAND, Wash. – Environmental regulators have detected high levels of fecal coliform in one of the Northwest’s most important areas for growing food.
Fecal coliform can come from sources like sewer connections and livestock manure that washes into streams. The bacteria have become a yearly occurrence in 13 water bodies in central Washington’s Yakima Valley. In farmland, it’s made worse by summertime irrigation and storms.
Gregory Bohn is with the Washington Department of Ecology. He says fecal coliform bacteria can point to other waterborne contamination that makes people sick.
“E. coli makes up 90 percent, or so, of fecal coliform bacteria,” Bohn says.
Bohn’s agency is wrapping up a report that will indicate how much bacteria the streams can handle without violating water quality standards, also know as its total maximum daily load or TMDL. A work group will help devise a cleanup plan.
Both the Idaho and Oregon Departments of Environmental Quality monitor for E. coli. Neither state has seen a spike in E. coli this year. Oregon officials say, in general, water quality tests are finding fewer bacteria.
Michael McIntyre is with the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality. He says Idaho is expecting to see more E. coli cases starting in early July.
“Conditions are right with the weather and just the number of people that are going to be out and about, as well as water levels that are receding. You got all the right conditions to have bacteria problems,” McIntyre says.
Protecting recreational areas is the main concern throughout the Northwest. That’s especially during the summer months when people may take a dip in local streams to cool off.
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