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Oregon Issues Beach Water Warnings Ahead Of Holiday Week

The beach at Sunset Bay State Park near Coos Bay is popular during the summer.

Kerin Sharma, OPB

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The beach at Sunset Bay State Park near Coos Bay is popular during the summer.

The weather is beautiful, vacation’s within reach, but don’t touch the water because there’s poop near the beach.

That's the case for five beaches on the southern and central Oregon Coast, where the Oregon Health Authority has issued fecal bacteria warnings.  Included are Seal Rock State Park and Agate beaches in Lincoln County, Sunset Bay State Park Beach in Coos County and Harris and Hubbard Creek beaches in Curry County.

In a series of health advisories issued Wednesday and Thursday, beachgoers are advised not to swim, wade or even touch “creeks, pools of water on the beach, or in discolored water, and to stay clear of water runoff flowing into the ocean.

Gabriela Goldfarb, the environmental public health section manager for the Oregon Health Authority, says the recent flurry of advisories come after a convergence of factors.

“We had heavy rainfall last week, and we typically see more advisories with rain events,” she said on Friday.

Usually the state monitors water quality every one to three weeks at select Oregon beaches. Goldfarb says the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality also recently stepped up that frequency.

“We also monitored the entire coast. Our partners, DEQ, took water samples all along beaches that we monitor in the beach monitoring program. That was in preparation for large crowds vising the coast for the Fourth of July holiday,” Goldfarb said.

Two similar beach advisories were issued and then lifted in late spring.

OHA tests for a bacteria called enterococci which can be present in fresh and salt water environments. The higher-than-normal levels of bacteria can cause diarrhea, stomach cramps, rashes and upper respiratory infections. Children and the elderly are considered more at risk.

The exact source of the fecal bacteria is unknown for each beach, but health authorities say water can be contaminated by stormwater runoff, sewer overflows and failing septic systems. The contamination source could also be from livestock, pet and wildlife waste that gets into the water.

The monitoring sites were chosen based on the level of use by the public, previous contamination and potential pollution sources nearby. If the amount of bacteria triggers a health advisory, another round of sampling happens within four days.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Jes Burns is a reporter for OPB's Science & Environment unit. Jes has a degree in English literature from Duke University and a master's degree from the University of Oregon's School of Journalism and Communications.