Bacteria found in water: Kenai beach contamination may cause illness

Posted: Friday, July 16, 2010

The Department of Environmental Conservation is monitoring water at North Kenai Beach at the end of Spruce Street because of high levels of enterococci bacteria found in recent water samples that may cause diarrhea, stomach aches, or ear, eye and skin infections.

In statement released Thursday, the department said the reason for the currently elevated levels of the bacteria that come from warm-blooded animals is unknown.

"It's unlikely to be direct human sewage," said Nancy Sonafrank, water division manager of the Department of Environmental Conservation. "We've also ruled out the wastewater treatment facility because they do regular monitoring."

The department advises beach users to avoid drinking or swimming in the water, washing after contact and rinsing fish harvested from the area with clean water. Fish should always be cooked to at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit internal temperature.

"We think it's still safe for fishing as long as precautions are taken," Sonafrank said.

According to Sonafrank, the national standard for enterococci bacteria in water is 35 bacteria per 100 milliliters.

"We're seeing an average of 59 bacteria per 100 milliliters," she said. "It's somewhat over on the average but that's not really at all extreme."

She said the department would continue to monitor water quality to ensure the area is safe for recreating.

"While the DEC says that the source is unknown in my discussions with them they say that it's likely fecal matter from birds that are feeding on the fish waste that is being left on the beach," said Rick Koch, Kenai city manager. "They said there's even some harbor seals that are feeding on some of the fish waste that could contribute to it as well."

Koch said the city has tried for years to encourage the state to make cleaning up fish waste on the beach a requirement of the personal use fishery.

"We expect to revisit that discussion with the state in regards to the fish waste that's produced by the participants in the personal-use fishery," he said.

The water quality samples were collected from July 8 to July 11 by the Department of Environmental Conservation with the City of Kenai as part of the federal BEACH Act to decrease water-borne illness at public seashores.

According to the statement, if bacteria levels increase significantly, the City of Kenai may post advisory signs at the beach until sampling indicates that enterococci bacteria numbers have dropped to safe levels.

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at

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