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Local water quality flagged

Daily News Staff Writer

State testing of marine water at several local beach areas this week indicated elevated levels of enterococci bacteria, according to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

DEC’s Division of Water issued an advisory late Friday afternoon, noting that the elevated presence of the bacteria “may indicate a health risk” and recommended that beach users take precautions such as avoiding swimming in the water.

The agency has been testing water in Ketchikan twice a week since at least late July, according to Nancy Sonafrank, environmental program manager with the Division of Water.

Water quality samples taken on Tuesday and Wednesday had levels “well above” the state’s limit for enterococci bacteria at the following locations: Beacon Hill off of North Point Higgins Road, Knudson Cove, Refuge Cove Beach, Rotary Beach (also known as Bugges Beach), Seaport Beach near Saxman, South Point Higgins Beach, and Sunset Beach at the south end of Mud Bay.

The agency plans to conduct the next sampling effort on Monday, according to Sonafrank, and it will continue monitoring and sampling until results are within the state’s quality criteria.

  “Until sample results meet water quality standards and DEC lifts this advisory, people should take precautionary measures when recreating,” according to the announcement.

In addition to avoiding swimming, beach users should wash after contact with the water, and rinse fish with clean water after they’ve been harvested. The seafood should be cooked to a “minimal internal temperature of 145 degrees fahrenheit to destroy pathogens,” according to DEC.

Enterococci bacteria is a pathogen associated with wastewater or sewage, according to Sonafrank.

“Essentially, these bacteria are relatively easy to culture, and they also are associated with … fecal matter from mammals,” she told the Daily News on Friday.

Water quality sampling in the Ketchikan area conducted on July 26 found elevated levels of the bacteria in two Ketchikan locations, but the levels were not confirmed in subsequent testing, according to Sonafrank.

And while the levels found in this week’s testing were elevated, ranging from 157 to 1,986 bacteria per 100 milliliters of water (the standard is 130 per 100 milliliters), they were “nowhere near pure wastewater, which can go into the tens of hundreds of thousands,” said Sonafrank.

She said recent weather could have had an impact on the bacteria levels seen in Ketchikan.

“We've heard that there were some sunny days this week, and bacteria can be influenced by temperature,” Sonafrank said, noting also that the forecast called for rain. “We think that the rain will probably lower the levels.”

According to DEC, contact with water with elevated levels of enterococci bacteria can cause stomach aches, diarrhea, or ear, eye and skin infections.

Further information about the beach sampling program is available online on the DEC website at: http://www.dec.state.ak.us/water/wqsar/wqs/beachprogram.htm.