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Environment, Energy and Transportation

E. Coli Levels In Bear Creek Exceed State Standards

bear creek zab milenko.jpg
Zab Milenko/Wikimedia Commons

High levels of E.coli bacteria have been found in the Bear Creek Basin, contaminating tributaries in Ashland, Talent, Medford and Central Point.

Although Bear Creek isn’t a popular swimming spot, people who play or wade in the water are advised to take precautions.

Greg Stabach is the program manager for the Natural Resources Department with the Rogue Valley Council of Governments.

“We don’t want to panic people saying, ‘Oh my God, if you touch the water you’re going to get really sick’ because that’s not true," says Stabach. "You just need to be really careful if you come in contact with the water. In particular you don’t want to ingest the water. If you have an open wound you really don’t want to go in, you want to wash your hands after, you know just be very careful.”

The Rogue Valley Council of Governments tests stream and river water quality once a month. They put out advisory notices in the summer when people are more likely to swim in streams and rivers.

Officials say that although there isn't a clear answer where the bacteria is coming from, there are a few likely culprits. Warm temperatures in the watershed influence bacteria growth and lower flows make the bacteria more concentrated. Also, increased irrigation can lead to more agricultural runoff into the streams.

It’s up to local health departments and local communities to post signs or close the streams. The streams must test below state bacteria standards for two months before they are taken off the warning list.