Group trying to find source of E. coli in rivers

Posted at: 04/08/2014 6:25 PM
By: Devin Neeley, KOB Eyewitness News 4

It's starting to warm up outside and rivers like the Animas can be a nice place to cool down.

But there's something in the water that might not make that a good idea.

“The state has found over the last several years that there has been  e. Coli levels that are too high, for safe recreation  so there has been a lot of speculation about where the bacteria in the river is actually coming from,” explained Melissa May, with the San Juan Water Conservation District.

Over the last year the San Juan Watershed Group has been trying to identify a source for the bacteria in the Animas and San Juan rivers.

“Quite surprising,’ said May, “we found a lot more human sources than we expected to find.”

While the San Juan Watershed Group is careful to point out that results are preliminary, they say the cause could be  leaking septic systems and San Juan County is already working on the problem.

“Expanding sewer out into unincorporated parts of the county and getting folks off of septic systems would be ultimately beneficial to surface water,” said Mike Stark, of San Juan County.

But in a county through which 60% of the state's surface water flows,  is the water safe to play in?

“Today I think I would.” Said May, “We didn't see too many high bacteria levels early in the season last year, I can’t say for sure, but for the most part  the most dangerous levels we saw were when the river is really  high, really muddy, I definitely wouldn't go swimming” that day.

The second year of testing will be complete in October and the watershed group will then work on a plan for keeping the rivers safe.