E. coli levels drop at Chester sites; two remain above acceptable levels

Tom Hildreth testing water in the Williams River in late June./Telegraph photo

The latest water tests taken on July 11 by volunteers of the Southeastern Vermont Watershed Alliance have found that E. coli levels have dropped at all six Chester area Williams River testing sites and are at acceptable levels at four — including two that were 10 times higher than acceptable levels.

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The acceptable level for swimming is 235 E. coli organisms per 100 milliliters (about about 3.4 ounces) of water.

On June 27, readings taken below the Chester Waste Water Treatment Plant and at the Bartonsville Bridge had found that E. coli levels were 10 times higher than acceptable levels for swimming.

Those two spots registered levels at 2,420 per 100 milliliters, up from June 13 figures of 1,047 at the Bartonsville Bridge and 1,554 at the Waste Water Treatment Facility.

But by the July 11 tests, both had dramatically dropped: Bartonsville Bridge to 156 E. coli per 100, the waste water facility to 126 E. coli per 100.

The two Chester sites that remained at unacceptable levels are the Williams River at Missing Link Road Bridge, which had been 249 and 299 on June 27 then registered 276 per 100 on July 11, and the Middle Branch, just above the confluence with the Williams, which registered 518 on June 27 and dropped to 326 on July 11.

E. coli is a bacteria found in the fecal matter of warm-blooded animals. According to the state Department of Health, “Generally, E. coli bacteria itself does not present a human health issue, but its presence indicates that there may be other disease-causing germs, from fecal contamination, in the water. … the more fecal contamination in the water, the more likely someone will get sick.”

In a press release, Laurie Callahan of the watershed alliance, said that “monitoring results from this past Wednesday (July 11) show generally lower E. coli counts, mostly due to reduced run-off during the drier weather.” Heavy rains can cause the higher counts of E. coli in certain areas.

Callahan cites both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Vermont Department of Health guidelines for acceptable levels of E. coli: clean enough for swimming is 235 or less E. coli per 100 milliliters of water; clean enough for boating (but not swimming) is 235 to 575 E. coli per 100 milliliters of water.

Every two weeks, from June to September, SeVWA volunteers monitor 22 river and stream sites in southeastern Vermont including the West, Saxtons, Williams and Rock Rivers and on the Whetstone and North Branch Brooks. The organization checks both swimming holes and recreational sites as well as others.

— Cynthia Prairie

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor for 30 years, having worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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