Bacteria levels at the mouth of the Kenai River measured during the personal-use fishery may be higher than the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation had initially predicted, according to the department’s preliminary results.
Following the fishery’s final sampling Aug. 11, ADEC found that the beach’s waters may have slightly greater levels of bacteria than the past three years the study has been conducted, said Tim Stevens, ADEC environmental program specialist for the division of water.
“We’re kind of scratching our heads, asking ourselves what’s different than past years,” Stevens said.
ADEC expected the fishery would yield lower bacteria levels this year because the city placed 12 Dumpsters along the beach to collect trash and it required all dipnetters dump fish waste in Cook Inlet’s low tide line, Stevens said.
Early results found lower bacteria levels along North Beach and higher results along South Beach, Stevens said.
ADEC has not, however, received field observations from the Kenai Watershed Forum, the organization contracted to conduct the study, Stevens said. Pending KWF’s results — observations of air temperature, water turbidity — ADEC may reassess the fishery’s bacteria levels, Stevens said.
“Bacteria is an odd beast,” he said.
One exceptionally high sample could skew the entire study’s data set, and the ADEC may decide to throw out that one outlier, Stevens said. Last year, the department eliminated an outlying date point because it was so much higher than all other samples, he said. Undiluted seagull guano floating in the water, for example, can cause an unusually high reading, he said.
ADEC found two spiked data points this year along North Beach, and the department may eliminate them from the data set, Stevens said.
“We’ll probably look at that date point pretty hard,” he said.
ADEC started bacterial sampling at Kenai’s fishery in 2010 per the Environmental Protection Agency’s national beach study. The study collects samples for enterococci and fecal coliform each year before and after the dipnet season.
Kenai’s fishery ranked high on the list of beaches to be sampled because of its heavy use and potential for contamination, Stevens said.
ADEC will have the study’s final results by early October.
Dan Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.