Battling an invisible danger lurking in the water

Battling an invisible danger lurking in the water
BOISE, Idaho - E. Coli is all around us but it can really cool things off at your favorite summer hot spot when there's too much of it in the water. The bacteria can cause diarrhea, vomiting and a number of other problems.

The Department of Environmental Quality spearheads the effort to keep you and your family safe. Lauri Monnot is a water quality analyst with the DEQ. Her tools are simple; a cooler, pole, and a cup.

But the decision to close down a beach is not as straight forward.

“One sample can really change what it is,” Monnot said.

E. Coli not only comes from wild animals like geese but it comes from people too. When hot summer days drive folks to their favorite beaches it can actually add to the problem.

"It's possible that there's human waste in the water," Monnot said.

In deciding whether to recommend a beach be closed, the DEQ follows EPA guidelines. Analysts collect samples all summer long. They must be taken three to seven days apart. The number of E. Coli in each sample is counted. When the average from the most recent five samples is too high, DEQ recommends closing the beach.

The five sample standard can be a lengthy process that takes up to 30 days. Because of that, you can have recent elevated levels while the beach remains open, although DEQ would put out health advisory warning beach go’ers.

"If they do choose to go in the water we're encouraging them to washing their hands both before and after as a precaution because humans are a source of it," Monnot said.

How about opening a beach back up?

Workers continue taking samples about a week apart and five samples are factored into the decision. As new samples are taken, old samples are dropped from the mix. When the most recent five sample average is at safe levels, the beach is opened back up.

The DEQ doesn't order a beach to close down. It makes a recommendation to the managing entity that is responsible for that decision.


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