What is E. coli?
E. coli is a bacteria found in human and animal feces, that if ingested or enters the body through an alternate route, can cause illness when present in concentrations above a certain level. Thanks to an Embrace a Stream Grant from the Bluegrass chapter of Trout Unlimited, HCC is partnering with Cumberland Hill Neighborhood Association to test the levels of E. coli in West Hickman Creek through the months of April - August 2023.
Is it safe to be in the water?
The LFUCG Division of Water Quality benchmark limit for E. coli is 676 MPN/100mL. Any amount above this limit pose a danger to human health. In the watershed wide sampling performed by LFUCG as part of the research for the West Hickman Watershed Management Plan (WHWMP), E. coli samples exceeded the benchmark more than any other pollutant. However, E. coli levels even lower, specifically at 235 MPN/100mL are associated with 36 illnesses per 1,000 persons swimming or playing in the water. As levels exceed 235, the illness rate goes up. Thus the 235 MPN/100mL is what many states use as a "beach action value" or level at which advisories warn the water is unsafe for human contact, as recommended by U.S. EPA.
This monitoring will add to data provided by the WHWMP by sampling at Veterans Park, one of the most popular areas in the watershed for citizens to interact directly with the stream. The design of the tests aims to provide community friendly sampling methods to empower neighborhoods to keep an eye on E. coli levels in their backyards.
The first public meeting for this project occurred on April 29th. Neighbors from the Cumberland Hill
Neighborhood Association met to hear a presentation on the impact of pet waste and fertilizers on water quality and then learned how to sample the stream with Coliglow testing kits.
Water Testing: May - Aug 2023 - What we learned!
Volunteers tested the levels of e-coli in the creek twice a month from May to Aug 2023. Of the seven days tested, results showed that the creek was impaired on two occasions (June 26 and July8) ->registering 1,394 and 653 MPN of E.coli /100ML respectively. These high levels of Ecoli occurred after volunteers noted heavy rainfall within 1 to 5 days prior to the sample being taken.
Tetracycline-resistant E.coli Levels
In addition to levels of regular E.coli, volunteers also tested for the levels of Tetracycline resistant E. coli (TR_E.coli). Tetracycline is a broad-spectrum antibiotic often prescribed to treat or prevent infections in people. Overuse of the antibiotic as well as improper use (not finishing the full prescription) and improper disposal (flushing in waste-water) has been cited as the cause for resistance by bacteria such as E.coli to these antibiotics. Our sampling results detected the existence of TR_E.coli on the same two test days noted above that the regular E.coli levels were high. Thankfully the levels were much lower at 44 and 91 MPN of TR_E.coli/100ML on each of the days.
The results above show us that it may be counter-intuitive, but... the least safe time to play in the creek may be after a heavy rain event. This is because rain - while much needed - washes whatever in in the land around the creek (referred to as the watershed) into the creek! This includes dog poop and other animal droppings that contain bacteria. In communities with aging water systems, heavy rains can also cause sewage overflows that end up in the creek as well. However, on the positive side, the results showed that on 5 of the 7 days tested the E. coli detected was so low that it qualified as safe for people to get in and enjoy! The full set of test results along with notes and pictures from the collection days can be views at the link below.