Routine water-quality tests show four Jackson County creeks exceed state bacteria standards and pose an elevated risk of illness and infection for swimmers or waders.
Rogue Valley Council of Governments' Natural Resource Department reported the high levels in Ashland's Neil Creek, Bear Creek from Phoenix to the mouth, Griffin Creek from Medford to the mouth, and Jackson Creek from Central Point to the mouth.
Natural Resource Department specialists say recent warm temperatures and severe drought conditions likely will mean the unfavorable levels continue all summer. RVCOG natural resources specialist Kelly Miller said those factors are key in the high bacteria levels being documented in June instead of August, which is when the levels are typically seen.
Officials will continue to test the bacteria levels monthly, but anticipate that they will continue to rise as the summer months wear on.
"It'll probably get worse," Miller said.
Jackson Baures said the monthly tests look for E. Coli bacteria, but that high results suggest other strains or parasites like giardia could also be present. There are a wide range of symptoms that present among those who ingest the contaminated water. A majority are gastrointestinal, with common reactions like diarrhea, vomiting, and indigestion.
Officials say waste from pets, livestock and wild animals, leaking septic systems and illegal dumping from portable toilets or recreational vehicles are all possible sources for the bacteria.
Area residents are urged to use caution when entering the waterways, and to take extra care to avoid ingesting the water or letting it come in contact with open wounds. That caution doesn't go away with the advisory, either.
"Anytime you're swimming (in creeks), you run that risk," Baures said.
To help reduce bacteria levels, RVCOG officials recommend having septic systems inspected to repair them immediately if they are failing. Pet owners should also pick up waste and dispose of it properly, keeping it away from storm drains and creeks.
Reports of failing septic systems and other pollutants being discharged into streams should be directed to the U.S. Department of Environmental Quality's complaint hotline at 1-888-997-7888 or reported online at www.deq.state.or.us/complaints/rep.htm.
— Ryan Pfeil