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Report: E. coli levels high in Scappoose Watershed

by: John Brewington SPLASH – Cody Dirks leaps into South Scappoose Creek in Veterans Park during the Pow Wow Festival.

Some portions of Scappoose Creek running through Veterans Park in Scappoose contain elevated levels of the potentially dangerous E. coli bacteria, according to a not-yet-released report by the Scappoose Bay Watershed Council.

The three-year study of Scappoose's waterways found levels of E. coli higher than what the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Environmental Quality consider safe.

'There's the potential for human health concerns, but we don't know what the extent is yet,' said Janelle St. Pierre, coordinator for the Scappoose Bay Watershed Council.

E. coli is a bacterium commonly spread through fecal-matter-contaminated water and food. Dangerous strains of E. coli can cause gastrointestinal discomfort or even death in people with weak immune systems.

More testing of the creek will be required to determine whether it poses a threat to public health. It will also narrow down the creek's problem areas, St. Pierre said.

What is known is that E. coli bacteria levels in Milton Creek tended to increase from upper to lower sampling location, according to the report. That means only a few areas had the heightened levels, which most commonly occurred during the summer months.

There are no plans to close the creek.

St. Pierre said it was important to regularly test creeks that are used for recreation in order to check on potential water-born pathogens. The current report monitored 27 sites within the Scappoose watershed.

The watershed council has not pinpointed a cause for the heightened E. coli levels. Likely causes include animal excrement making its way into the creek or a septic tank leaking.

Angela Brown, who tested the water at Scappoose's sewer treatment facility, said she saw improved E. coli levels during the three-year study.

'It seems like the samples got better,' she said. 'When they first brought the sample in, though, they were full of E. coli.'

She said more testing is required to determine whether the high E. coli levels were a fluke.

Further findings will be included in the watershed council's full report, expected to be completed next year.

Though heightened E. coli levels are a cause for concern, they don't necessarily result in watershed closures, said Christine Stone, spokeswoman for the Oregon Health Authority.

Still, the dangers of E. coli were highlighted earlier in the month when more than 15 people were sickened by E. coli-tainted strawberries from farms in Washington and Yamhill counties. One person died from the outbreak.