Recent storms raising e. coli levels in area rivers

The Southeastern Vermont Watershed Alliance began its annual water quality testing on Wednesday, June 19th, with Wednesday, July 3 as its second river sampling day.

Throughout the summer season, volunteers from SeVWA take water samples from specific spots in the Williams, Saxtons, West and Rock rivers and the North Branch and Whetstone brooks, testing for e. coli bacteria, which is found in the fecal matter of warm-blooded animals and, at high enough levels, can cause illness in humans.

The volunteers test areas for general water quality as well as those used for recreation and as swimming holes.

Of the eight Williams River sites on the test list, three could not be tested on July 3 because, according to Laurie Callahan of SeVWA, “the amount of rain that had fallen in the region the previous 24-48 hours” caused the water levels to rise and the flow to be too fast.

Of the five remaining Williams River sites, four had e. coli levels far above the recommended level of 235 organisms per 100 milliliters of water, and one – on Herrick’s Cover Road in Rockingham – had a ratio well below, at 128ppm. Swimming holes at Golden Hill Road and the Bartonsville Bridge in Rockingham and at Rainbow Rock in Chester ran 867, 771 and 1,300ppm respectively, far exceeding the “suitable for swimming” single sample standard.

Click here for a PDF of the Williams and Saxtons rivers chart.

Click here for a PDF of the West and Rock rivers, North Branch and Whetstone brooks chart.

In a press release, Callahan wrote, “The elevated e. coli results … are most likely due to the significant rainfall that we had during hours prior to our sampling on various rivers. The results indicate that e. coli is probably entering the streams in run-off and other sources from the surrounding terrain during significant rainfalls.”

Swimmers are urged to wait 24 to 48 hours after a “significant” rainfall before swimming in lakes and streams. This spring and summer the southern tier of Vermont has experienced a lot of rainfall.

Callahan said that “e. coli in the water may not directly cause an illness after swimming, but its presence indicates that there is probable fecal contamination of the water by warm-blooded animals (and) swimming in the water … puts you at a higher probable risk to develop some sort of waterborne illness.”

An infection of e. coli usually starts two to five days after exposure. It can include cramps and abdominal pain followed by diarrhea. Nausea is common as are headaches. Fever and chills do occur but are less common.

Future 2013 sampling dates are Wednesday, July 17, July 31, Aug.14 and Aug. 28.

— Cynthia Prairie

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 40 years. Cynthia has 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, and has won numerous state awards for her reporting. As an editor, she has overseen her staffs to win many awards for indepth coverage. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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