Low water flows are spelling trouble for local creeks, as bacterial contamination already has climbed to levels not typically seen until much later in the summer.
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 Rogue River, Griffin Creek from Medford to the Rogue, and Jackson Creek from Central Point to the Rogue.
Natural Resource Department specialists say recent warm temperatures and severe drought 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.
Officials will continue to test the bacteria levels monthly but anticipate they will continue to rise as the summer months wear on.
"It'll probably get worse," Miller said.
Jackson Baures of Jackson County Health and Human Services said the monthly tests look for E. coli bacteria, but the high levels suggest other strains or parasites such as giardia could also be present. There are a wide range of symptoms that can strike anyone who ingests the contaminated water. A majority are gastrointestinal, with common reactions being 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.
People are urged to use caution when entering the waterways, and to take extra care to avoid swallowing 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 and repairing 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.